Sunday, March 30, 2008

Gazette Op Ed: Candidates' "Experience"

March 30, 2008, 7:20 a.m.; March 31, 2008, 9:00 a.m. [clarification at bottom of entry]

Politics: Assessing Candidates' "Experience"

Nicholas Johnson

The Gazette

March 30, 2008, p. A9

There’s little significant difference between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as lawyers who are well educated, thoughtful, widely informed and fully capable of formulating proposals on numerous topics. Both are articulate, though Obama has the charisma advantage.

But the experience qualifying someone to be president requires a lot more than having been married to one, proposing good ideas or world travel.

As someone who has served during the administrations of three presidents, I believe the presidency is one of the most complex administrative jobs imaginable.

There’s no perfect, qualifying “experience.” But two things can help.

One is experience at administering large institutions: a federal cabinet-level department, a state government, military branch, major university or corporation.

The other is the understanding and rapport earned by having worked in institutions with which a president must relate: city, county and state government; the federal executive, legislative, judicial and administrative branches; international organizations and embassies; labor unions and Wall Street, among others.
By these standards both Democrats and Sen. John McCain are unimpressive.

None has served as mayor or governor; none has headed a cabinet department; none has helped administer the Pentagon or CIA; none has worked for international organizations, been ambassador to the United Nations or a foreign country; none has been a union officer or corporate CEO. None has headed delegations negotiating with foreign governments over trade agreements, release of hostages or treaties.

Each has the “legislative experience” of making speeches and signing bills, though none as House speaker or Senate leader. McCain has 25 years in the U.S. House and Senate, Obama 12 years in the Illinois and U.S. senates and Clinton the least with eight years in the U.S. Senate.

McCain and Obama have little to no administrative experience, and Clinton’s record is spare and negative.

Her Web site acknowledges her health care efforts “did not succeed,” her administration of the campaign has been charitably characterized as “a disaster” and critics say she’s grossly exaggerating her “experience” and significance of contributions to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and peace in Ireland and Kosovo.

By contrast, Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign chairman, David Wilhelm, said, “I know organizational excellence when I see it” and characterizes Obama’s campaign as “a model.” Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Clinton supporter, said Obama has administered his campaign “with real discipline.”

Compare these candidates’ “experience” with that of Gov. Bill Richardson: 15 years’ legislative experience in the U.S. House, understanding of state government from two terms as governor and of federal government from the Department of Energy, the significant administrative experience as a governor and cabinet secretary and the international perspective of a former U.N. ambassador. His international accomplishments, including successful hostage negotiations with Saddam Hussein and others, inspired five Nobel Peace Prize nominations.

[As political junkies may recall, Governor Richardson's experience was creatively made the subject of one of his early commercials that attracted a lot of attention and boosted his support early on -- though not enough to keep him in the race -- with its final line from a job interviewer: "So, what makes you think you can be president?"

I’m not suggesting a Richardson write-in campaign. But his is the kind of resume that would provide legitimate support for a presidential candidate’s claims to being more experienced — “tested” and “ready from day one” — than any of the three now running.

That doesn’t mean any of the three is unqualified to be president or is inadequately experienced. It just means it’s a bit disingenuous for them to argue their experience makes them more qualified than the others.

As former State Department Policy Planning Director Greg Craig has said: “When your entire campaign is based upon a claim of experience, it is important that you have evidence to support that claim. Hillary Clinton’s argument that she has passed ‘the commander in chief test’ is simply not supported by her record.”

McCain and Obama have life experiences no less valuable that those of Clinton. McCain was a POW. Obama’s community organizing background gives him a unique citizen-empowerment, government-from-the-bottomup-not-top-down, approach to the presidency.

All are qualified; none is uniquely “experienced.” Clinton loses credibility by suggesting otherwise.
Nicholas Johnson of Iowa City, a three-time presidential appointee and one-time congressional candidate, maintains

[Prior blog entries regarding candidates "experience" include,

Nicholas Johnson, "Compassion and Experience," March 27, 2008;

Nicholas Johnson, "Clinton Shouldn't Lie About What's Videotaped," March 22, 2008;

Nicholas Johnson, "Hillary Makes Up Experience," March 14, 21, 2008;

Nicholas Johnson, "Hillary's Lack of Qualifications," March 8, 10, 11, 12, 2008.]
March 31: State29 has commented regarding this column that "Nicholas Johnson has an Op Ed . . . about the kind of 'experience' a Presidential candidate should have. He isn't impressed with any of the choices on either side of the aisle, and has a bit of a longing for Bill Richardson." State29, "Experience, Schmerience," March 30, 2008. Because State29 is nothing if not perceptive and a close reader, I suspect others may have drawn these conclusions as well.

So, to clarify:

1. I intended one message and one message only in this column. It's contained in the concluding two sentences: "All [Senators Obama, Clinton and McCain] are qualified; none is uniquely 'experienced.' Clinton loses credibility by suggesting otherwise." In short, it was not that "he isn't impressed with any of the choices on either side of the aisle." It was simply that to the extent Senator Clinton (or anyone else) thinks "experience" is relevant to "qualifications" the differences between the "experience" of the three are so insignificant that "Clinton loses credibility" by trying to make the case that she should be the preferred candidate because the experience she has had is so much greater than that of the other two.

2. While I do think the kinds of experience I mention in this column are useful for a president, I wouldn't necessarily argue that a president "should have" them. (a) For starters, few if any candidates would be able to have all the categories of experience I mention. (b) There are certainly many examples of presidents with one or more of those categories of experience who have made a mess of things -- our current president (with experience as a governor) included. (c) Similarly, there are good things that can be said about presidents whose predominant experience was as a U.S. senator: Harry Truman, Jack Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

3. To the extent I do think "experience" relevant to "qualifications" it the breadth of experience that I find relevant -- for the reasons listed in the column.

4. I wouldn't say "he isn't impressed" with any of the three. I expressly said, "All are qualified." It's just that, to the extent I have enthusiasm for any one or more of them, that enthusiasm comes from "qualifications" other than what's reflected from their breadth of experience.

5. Nor would I say that I have a "longing" for Governor Bill Richardson. I was referring to him, in this context, simply as an illustration, an example, of a candidate who does have a breadth of experience -- "that's what a breadth of experience looks like" -- by way of contrasting his experience with the relative lack of a breadth of experience on the part of Senators Obama, Clinton and McCain. (On the other hand, I would clearly include Richardson among those candidates I would find "qualified," and one whose personal manner made him one of my favorites with whom to spend time.)

It doesn't speak well of my writing, I know, to have to write a second column to explain the first. But I thought it worthwhile to try to clear up my mis-communications. Hopefully, this has done that -- rather than just make it worse.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Compassion and Experience

March 27, 2008, 7:25 a.m.

Compassionate Maturity

President George Bush has characterized himself a "compassionate conservative." However appropriately you may think that label applies to our president, we've had some evidence recently that the phrase, compassionate conservative, is not the oxymoron many Democrats believe it to be.

As general semanticists were trying to get us to understand during the latter half of the Twentieth Century, much of what we see and hear, and virtually all of what we say, reveals far more about what is going on inside that electro-chemical soup we call our brains than anything going on in the "real world" of space-time events "out there."

I was reminded of this the other day when I read the comments of Senator Hillary Clinton and Governor Mike Huckabee regarding Senator Barack Obama's former minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

As I say, neither comment tells us much, if anything, about Rev. Wright. Both comments tell us volumes about the contrasts between Clinton and Huckabee.

First, here is an excerpt from the story about Clinton's reaction:

"Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking for the first time directly about the association between the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Sen. Barack Obama, said 'getting up and moving' would have been the right response to hearing the preacher's fiery sermons.

Wright 'would not have been my pastor,' Clinton said during an interview with the conservative editorial board of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, whose endorsement she is seeking. 'You don't choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend,' she said."
Anne E. Kornblut, "Clinton Weighs In on Wright Controversy," Washington Post/The Trail, March 25, 2008, 5:15 p.m. ET.

Now read Governor Huckabee's reaction:

"Obama has handled this about as well as anybody could, and I agree, it's a very historic speech [Barack Obama, "A More Perfect Union," March 18, 2008]. . . . He made the point and I think it's a valid one. That you can't hold the candidate responsible for everything that people around him may say or do. You just can't. Whether it's me, whether it's Obama, anybody else. But he did distance himself from the very vitriolic statements."

"I grew up in a very segregated South. And I think that you have to cut some slack . . . I'm probably the only conservative in America who's going to say something like this, but I'm just telling you. We've got to cut some slack to people who grew up being called names, being told you have to sit in the balcony when you go to the movie; you have to go to the back door to go into the restaurant and you can't sit out there with everyone else; there's a separate waiting room in the doctor's office; here's where you sit on the bus.

"And you know what? Sometimes people do have a chip on their shoulder and resentment and you have to just say, I probably would too. I probably would too. In fact, I may have had a more, more of a chip on my shoulder had it been me."
Derrick Z. Jackson, "The black man's burden," Boston Globe/, March 25, 2008.

(Governor Huckabee earlier earned my once-every-four-years "if I had to pick a Republican who would it be?" award: Nicholas Johnson, "It's Huckabee," July 24, 2007 -- for many of the same reasons reflected in these quotes.)

Not incidentally, from Jackson's report Senator John McCain's reaction also spoke well of McCain: "John McCain, the assured Republican nominee resisted the attempt by FOX News's Sean Hannity to whip Wright's remarks into a pyre for Obama. McCain said coolly, 'I do know Senator Obama. He does not share those views . . . I've had endorsements of some people that I didn't share their views . . . My life has been one of reconciliation. . . .'"

In short, what we ought to be looking for are neither "compassionate conservatives" or "compassionate liberals," rather the quality of "compassionate maturity" in all of our candidates.

Tung Yin on "Experience"

I have written prior blog entries about Senator Hillary Clinton's assertions regarding her "35 years of experience" and why, she says, it makes her more qualified to be president than the experience of Senator Barack Obama. Nicholas Johnson, "Hillary's Lack of Qualifications," March 8, 10, 11, 12, 2008; Nicholas Johnson, "Hillary Makes Up 'Experience,'" March 14, 21, 2008; Nicholas Johnson, "Clinton Shouldn't Lie About What's Videotaped," March 22, 2008.

Yesterday [March 26] Tung Yin ("The Yin Blog") turned Senator Clinton's claims on her husband:

Experience to be President

If Hillary Clinton's main claim to the Democratic nomination over Barack Obama is her greater "experience" (in what?), then can we safely assume that she also believes that the country made a mistake in electing her husband in 1992?

After all, Bill Clinton had only been governor of a small state, while his opponent:

(1) was the sitting President of the United States -- itself no doubt the best experience for being President of the United States;

(2) had been a United States Ambassador to the United Nations;

(3) had headed the Central Intelligence Agency; and

(4) had served two terms as the Vice President of the United States -- a position at least comparable to Senator Clinton's eight years as the First Lady.

If you want to talk about experience, George H.W. Bush's record dwarfed Bill Clinton's . . . .
Tung Yin, "Experience to be President," The Yin Blog, March 26, 2008.

What Tung Yin kindly does not point out is that, however little experience Bill Clinton may have had to be president -- especially compared to that of the first President Bush or, I would add, Governor Bill Richardson -- it significantly exceeded that which Senator Clinton now has (insofar as her husband had at least the public administration experience, and useful knowledge of federal-state relations, that came from having been a governor).

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Humoring the Hawkeyes

March 26, 2008, 5:45 a.m.

"How About Them Hawks?"

There comes a time in any tragedy when the serious conversations are beginning to repeat themselves, the reasonable reactions have either been adopted or consistently ignored, and the only rational response is humor.

The Iowa football program has reached that stage.

Now that spring practice has come 'round again, and another season stretches out before us, here are some efforts at comic relief -- for which I would gladly give credit if only I knew the source:

Q: Why is Coach Kirk Ferentz retiring to become a drug counselor?
A: So he can spend more time with his players.

A woman in Iowa City calls 9-1-1 and shrieks, "Someone just broke into my house and I think he's going to rob me!"
"We're really busy at the moment," the dispatcher replies. "Just give me the guy's jersey number and we'll get back to you."

Q: What is the biggest concern for the University of Iowa athletic director right now?
A: Do the NCAA rules mean that paying players' bail money constitutes a violation?

Q: What do you call a drug ring in Iowa City?
A: A huddle.

Q: Four Hawkeye players are in a car. Who's driving?
A: The police.

Q: Why can't more Hawkeye football players get into the huddle on the field?
A: It's a violation of their parole to fraternize with known felons.

Q: What is the Hawkeyes' new Honor System?
A: "Yes, your honor." "No, your honor."

Q: How will the Hawkeyes spend the first week of spring training?
A: Studying their Miranda Rights.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Clinton Shouldn't Lie About What's Videotaped

March 25, 2008, 2:00 p.m.

Lies, Damned Lies and Videotape

When I earlier wrote here that "Hillary Makes Up 'Experience'" there was already plenty of evidence of her at best "embellishing" her credentials, and at worse flat out lying about them: her responsibility for SCHIP, helping to "bring peace to Northern Ireland," and the assertion that "I negotiated open borders to let fleeing refugees into safety from Kosovo." Each claim has been essentially refuted by those who were there and were responsible. See, Nicholas Johnson, "Hillary Makes Up 'Experience,'" March 14, 21, 2008.

Once 11,000 pages of her White House schedules were made public it turned out there was little if anything there to support claims she was responsible for major governmental policies or decisions. (After going through them, the Washington Post's reporters wrote:

"While Clinton's advertisements have boasted that she is best prepared for a 3 a.m. crisis phone call, the schedules contain no evidence that Clinton was at the table during major national security decisions. They do not list her as attending National Security Council meetings or joining briefings in the Situation Room. She did not have a national security clearance. And the documents make clear that at moments of major crisis, Clinton was often busy with her own agenda."
Peter Baker and Karen DeYoung, "Clinton's Experience Is Debated; While Not a Foreign Crisis Player, She Carried U.S. Message," Washington Post, March 21, 2008, p. A6.)

Note that I have not asserted that either Senator Obama or McCain has had more experience of the kind Senator Clinton claims to justify her assertion that she passes "the commander-in-chief test." In fact, the three of them are all essentially equally lacking when it comes to the kinds of "experience" that might be relevant to the presidency. See, Nicholas Johnson, "Hillary's Lack of Qualifications," March 8, 10, 11, 12, 2008. My point is simply that there is no justification for her claim that she has more experience than either of them.

Senator Obama has not made "presidential experience" a major part of his campaign. She has. And that's her problem.

Any misrepresentation about one's resume, degrees, certification, or experience is problematical. But once a candidate for public office campaigns that he or she should be preferred because their extensive experience makes them more qualified for the job than their opponents, and "experience" is the centerpiece of their campaign, refusals to explain, and provide details regarding the nature of that "35 years of experience," or evidence that the claims are contradicted by the data, can be serious indeed.

Now comes a whopper. Ann Sanner, "Clinton 'Misspoke' About '96 Bosnia Trip," Washington Post, March 25, 2008 ("Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign said she 'misspoke' last week when saying she had landed under sniper fire during a trip to Bosnia as first lady in March 1996. She later characterized the episode as a 'misstatement' and a 'minor blip.'").

Sanner reports that Senator Clinton earlier this month said, "'I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.'" Called on it yesterday [March 24] Clinton responded, "'I went to 80 countries, you know. I gave contemporaneous accounts, I wrote about a lot of this in my book. You know, I think that, a minor blip, you know, if I said something that, you know, I say a lot of things -- millions of words a day -- so if I misspoke, that was just a misstatement,' she said."

Sanner reports that "According to an Associated Press story at the time, Clinton was placed under no extraordinary risks on the trip. And one of her companions, comedian Sinbad, told The Washington Post he has no recollection either of the threat or reality of gunfire."

This would have been dismissed as a "he-said-she-said" -- until videotape of her actual arrival started circulating on the Internet and ultimately was used by CBS. Here it is:

For more see, Michael Dobbs, "The Fact Checker," Washington Post, March 26, 2008.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Obama Mason and Public Finance

March 21, 2008, 9:45 a.m.

Today's Items Relating to Subjects Followed by This Blog

Obama Campaign
Barry Massey, "Gov. Richardson Endorsing Obama,"
Associated Press/Washington Post, March 21, 2008, 6:37 a.m. ("New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the nation's only Hispanic governor, is endorsing Sen. Barack Obama for president, calling him a "once-in-a-lifetime leader" who can unite the nation and restore America's international leadership.").

Score One for President Mason. Look, I don't know what the arguments were pro and con, it may not be the most important issue confronting the University, and I don't even know if it was actually President Sally Mason's idea or something a staffer came up with. But carving out ambulatory medical services from Carver strikes me, intuitively, as a bit of creative analytical thinking worthy of notice and positive comment. Kathryn Fiegen, "Mason: Ambulatory services at UIHC could move; Would help alleviate traffic near hospital," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 21, 2008, p. A1.

Again, on this next story, I don't know the details, but having played a major role as an FCC commissioner in getting the anti-smoking spots on television, and as a former co-director of Iowa's Institute for Health, Behavior and Environmental Policy, I was of course interested in this morning's story about the selection of Jim Merchant's replacement as dean of the College of Public Health: Susan J. Curry from the University of Illinois. From all initial descriptions, it looks like a good choice. Diane Heldt, "Healthy Outlook; Illinois-Chicago Educator to Lead Public Health College," The Gazette, March 21, 2008, p. B1.

Public Finance: Murals, Earmarks and Giveaways

Murals. Former Iowa City City Counselor, Bob Elliott, had a little serious fun with his former colleagues in an op ed column this morning. There are all too many examples in public finance (as well as corporate and personal finance) of solutions, or opportunities, that require less money while producing greater benefits. Finding them is a wonderful intellectual challenge that can produces great financial rewards. It seems the City is offering an outfit in Arizona $65,000 to paint a mural on the wall of an indoor swimming pool. Elliot questions whether a mural is an essential element for swimming, but if it is why it wouldn't be both more desirable -- and far cheaper -- to have it done by local artists, including UI and high school students. (There is precedent in the mural done by our alternative high school students under the direction of Hani Elkadi.) Bob Elliott, "Look Locally for Rec Center Art," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 21, 2008, p. A11.

Earmarks. Eliminating earmarks and special interest funding of our Representatives and Senators are among the top priorities of virtually all public interest reformers. Having replaced Congressman Jim Leach with former Cornell College professor Dave Loebsack, we now have a representative who votes with the Congressional Democrats -- but who also takes PAC and lobbyist money, and in this morning's Press-Citizen is defending earmarks. Pamela Brogan, "Loebsack defends earmarks; Says they should go to education, public safety," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 21, 2008, p. A3.

What's wrong with earmarks? "Let me count the ways."

They are unfunded. They enable office holders, at no cost to themselves, to appear to be servicing their district or state by funding special projects, that we're paying for by borrowing from the Chinese today and leaving to our great-grandchildren to pay back tomorrow.

They are not properly vetted. There's a reason Congress creates administrative agencies. Gathering data and doing analysis takes time and expertise Congress doesn't have. To let individual officials envision and create earmarks in the dead of night under a rock is not a very rational approach to comparative project evaluation. Senator Grassley's $50 million for an ill-considered indoor rain forest is one example right here at home. The "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska is another.

They are open to the most rampant corruption and paybacks to campaign contributors.

If Congress is to engage in such project-by-project authorization it should be done through the regular process of bills, sub-committee and committee staff consideration, hearings, reports, ultimate floor debate, passage in both houses, and presidential approval.

But Congress shouldn't be mired in such petty details regardless of the process. Most of these earmarks involve relatively minor (in a three-trillion-dollar budget) items more appropriate for consideration by state legislatures, county boards of supervisors, city councils, local businesses and philanthropists. To the extent they do involve local illustrations of what are, in fact, nationwide needs they should become a part of national programs.

It's not necessary to play the earmarks game "because 'everybody's doing it.'" Everybody's not doing it. There are members of the Senate and House who don't play the game; members who are leading the charge against earmarks. Congressman Loebsack simply chooses not to be among them.
Giveaways. Meanwhile, the state giveaways continue unabated -- $155 million-plus to the likes of Hamlet Protein of Denmark, Hormel, and John Deere. Nor is this all for businesses new to Iowa, or new construction. "Federal Mogul" (now there's a name) would like to buy some equipment to make a new Champion spark plug at its "existing spark plug plant in Burlington"! In addition to the direct cash outlays from grateful Iowa taxpayers to the bottom line of these for-profit corporations (from such funds as the "Community Economic Betterment Account" and "High Quality Jobs Creation Program") there are always the hidden benefits the legislature refuses to reveal to the media and public in detail involving taxes the firms are told they won't have to pay, or the costs of infrastructure support they would otherwise have to pay for themselves that is picked up by the taxpayers. David DeWitte, "Wind-Power Factory to Open in Oelwein," The Gazette, March 21, 2008, p. B8; Associated Press, "State Gives $155M to Business Projects," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 21, 2008, p. A9.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Military Industrial Media Complex

March 19, 2008, 9:00 a.m.; March 22, 2008, 12:30 p.m.

Why Did the Media Take Us to War?

On the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War -- a war that has already lasted longer than, and is projected to cost ten times as much as, World War II -- it is appropriate that we try to understand how and why America's mass media (contrary to that of other nations) were so willing to support this Administration's rush to start an unprovoked war.

March 22: "On the Media" -- a "must listen" public radio program from WNYC for anyone interested in media issues -- devoted its program this weekend to "5 Years of Covering Iraq," an effort to at least describe in some detail, even if it fails to fully explain, the media's devastating failure to serve its audience during the build-up to, initiation, and continuation of this war. And the failure continues: OTM points out that whereas 24% of "the news" involved the war some months ago, it is now 1% of "the news," and there has been little to no effort by the media, on this fifth anniversary, to discuss and explain its failures. (The program is available for listening from the site linked above.)
The Press-Citizen (like, hopefully, other papers this morning) does a bit of an editorial mea culpa that "we were wrong."

But "opps, sorry; we were wrong" is not enough, as Norman Solomon documents in the film, "War Made Easy." It's commendable that the media is willing to do a post mortem -- literally in this case with 4000 U.S. military dead, and estimates of 70,000 to 700,000 Iraqi dead. Confession is good for the soul. But, as Solomon notes, it does little to bring back those dead souls, or the estimated $3 trillion of our grandchildren's money it's going to take to pay for this folly.

So we're left with the question of how and why the media could have got it so wrong.

Were there no red flags, no warning signs, no voices of dissent?

No, that can't be the answer. As the Press-Citizen notes this morning "there were voices arguing against the military option" -- including that of Senator Barack Obama.

Two months earlier there was also my own voice in the form of an op ed column in the Press-Citizen.

Nor we were the only two. Numerous individuals with far more impressive military credentials than Senator Obama or I were making similar points.

I've reproduced all of these below, starting with this morning's Press-Citizen editorial:

Five years ago, we -- like many others in the American media and the broader American population -- bought the Bush Administration's arguments for toppling Saddam Hussein. After watching Colin Powell address the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, we editorialized that the then U.S. secretary of state had "laid out in clear and unequivocal terms how Iraq is connected to terrorists, how it is building weapons of mass destruction and how it is deliberately deceiving U.N. inspectors." . . . [Editorial, "Powell finally offers proof against Iraq," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 6, 2003].

The past five years have shown that Powell was wrong, that we were wrong, that the majority of the U.S. media was wrong and that U.S. intelligence was wrong. . . .

In the build up to the invasion of Iraq that began on March 19, 2003, there were voices arguing against the military option. . . .

Five years later, those dire predictions have proven all too true.
Editorial, "Draw Down U.S. Troops Before Next Anniversary," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 19, 2008, p. A12.

Here is a part of Senator Obama's eloquent speech opposing the war that he delivered in October 2002. (The entire text, linked below, is worth reading as much for its stirring literary quality as its sound analysis.)

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars.
Barack Obama, "Remarks of Illinois State Senator Barack Obama Against Going to War With Iraq," October 2, 2002.

I did a good bit of early writing about terrorism and the War. Here is a sample of my own warning, two months earlier than Senator Obama's, in August of 2002, published in the Press-Citizen (along with the Omaha World-Herald and possibly other papers):

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

Nicholas Johnson

Guest Opinion, Iowa City Press-Citizen

August 17, 2002, p. 11A

Good citizenship demands every American choose a position on a major issue: the proposed war on Iraq.

In our overcrowded lives, obligations of citizenship tend to slide. This one can’t.

Some in the Bush Administration advocate we unilaterally attack a nation that has not attacked us, because President Bush would like “a change in the regime.”

Is that OK? Can any country overthrow another nation’s regime just to better serve its corporate and other interests? Hitler thought so. Clearly Bush is no Hitler. But he has, so far, given us the same rationale for our proposed invasion as Hitler provided the Germans for theirs.

Can nations be attacked just because they have “weapons of mass destruction”? If so, watch out. We have more than the rest of the world combined.

Are “pre-emptive wars” legitimate? If so, we have less justification for attacking Iraq than they would have for attacking us (we’ve announced we’re considering attacking them).

Reverse the roles. What if Iraq wanted “a change in the regime” in the U.S.? The equivalent of 250,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq would be three million Iraqi soldiers here (with 12 times their population).

Would you then back Iraq’s choice for U.S. president? If not, why should they back our choice for Iraq?

We have often tried to change other nations’ regimes: Chile, Cuba, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Vietnam, and now Afghanistan. The complete list is long. We sometimes use our military, sometimes encourage coups by those of other countries, or funnel money and arms through third countries, or use a clandestine CIA.

Whatever means we choose, regime changes aren’t easy. Our man in Kabul, with our military’s support, never controlled much of Afghanistan beyond the capital. Now he’s even under attack there. Why will our man in Baghdad have it easier?

Moreover, precedent doesn’t make it right. Such aggression is not only immoral it also violates international law (admittedly of little concern to Washington).

Finally, it’s “un-American.”

Hitler invaded Poland. But he didn’t pretend to be a cheerleader for democracy. We do.

Have we abandoned that role? If not, promoting our interests by overturning regimes in other countries is both the rankest hypocrisy and self-defeating.

You don’t care that it is illegal, immoral and contrary to our world role? OK, then consider the pragmatic reasons why it won’t work. Why it will further anger our enemies, alienate our allies, and decrease rather than increase our “homeland security.” Merely proposing war has already done that.

Could that be why the State Department, CIA, U.S. Army, and the Republican House majority leader, Dick Armey, oppose the war?

No, an unprovoked big Iraq attack, over near-unanimous Muslim nations’ opposition, isn’t likely to decrease terrorists’ hostility.

The President’s father left Saddam in office for a reason: balance of power in the Middle East. Why do we now want a dominant Saudi Arabia -- the source of the September 11 terrorists and their financing?

Another practical downside is that 250,000 soldiers need to be based somewhere in the region. Right now most all the bases we’ve formerly used are being denied us for this war.

We have no articulated plan for getting into Iraq, or getting out. Knowledge of why we’re there, what we’ll do once we are, or of Saddam’s probable countermoves (here as well as there). The definition of “win,” what we’d do if we did, and how long we’ll stay. What it will cost in our soldiers’ blood, taxpayers’ treasure, and the Iraqi civilian casualties from urban war. Or why the unknown “new regime” will be better.

All we know for certain is that it will add more multi-billion-dollar debt to our already weakened economy, increase the burden we’re bequeathing our grandchildren, and possibly improve the Republicans’ odds in November.

You may disagree. Whatever your analysis, this is one time you must let your elected officials hear from you.

Nicholas Johnson is the former director of the War Shipping Authority and now teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law. His Web page is at
Over five years later we're still left to wonder: How and why could the media have ignored such analyses and warnings -- especially when published in their own pages?

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

WWGFS Tiger and Barack

March 18, 2008, 11:15 a.m.

Analyzing Race, Ethnicity, Sports and Politics

"How does he do it?"

That's how the Orlando Sentinel's sports reporter, David Whitley, led his story about Tiger Woods' 64th PGA tournament win. David Whitley, "Champ Authors Another Golf Masterpiece," Orlando Sentinel, March 17, 2008.

It got me to wondering as well. Just how does he do it?

What accounts for the thousands who come out to watch him play, and the millions more who watch on television? Why do corporations line up to pay him millions just to use, or say nice things about, their products?

What accounts for a swooning media? What would cause seasoned and cynical professional sports reporters like Whitley to write, in assessing Woods' Bay Hill victory, "Another Sunday, another Tiger Woods masterpiece. . . . He passed Arnold Palmer in career wins and tied Ben Hogan on Sunday. Next up is Jack Nicklaus, then Sam Snead, then Zeus or whoever else is the club champ on Mt. Olympus."

"Masterpiece"? "Zeus"?

It's hard to understand, isn't it? Why, in a field of very talented professional golfers, would so much attention, so much adulation, be focused on this young man?

And then I was reminded, not of the initialed bracelets that asked the question "WWJD" -- "What would Jesus do?" My suspicion is that Jesus might well take the same approach to golf that a law school colleague of mine takes to all of what he persists in disdainfully pronouncing "sch-portz."

No, what I asked myself was, "WWGDS" -- "What would Geraldine Ferraro say?"

Former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, you may recall, has been thinking deeply about the comparable attention focused on Barack Obama. Why would this young presidential candidate, like Tiger Woods, attract crowds of thousands, and voters by the millions, on the basis of his performance?

And after long and thoughtful contemplation this seasoned politico, who has been around the track herself more than once, and has contributed so much to her candidate, Senator Hillary Clinton, finally figured it out and shared her conclusion:

"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position."
Katharine Q. Seelye and Julie Bosmanb, "Ferraro's Obama Remarks Become Talk of Campaign," The New York Times, March 12, 2008.

Could this be the explanation for Tiger Woods as well?

Moreover, to the extent there may be more sports fans cheering Woods than political junkies cheering Obama, the Ferraro theory may very well explain it by the additional ethnic strains Woods represents. After all, Obama is merely the son of a white woman and Kenyan man. Woods is as Thai as he is African-American, with Native American and European ancestry as well. (See, e.g., Janita Poe, "Tiger Woods Spotlights Multiracial Identity; Golf Star Sparks pride in Heritage," Chicago Tribune, April 21, 1997.)

By golly, I'll bet that's it, I thought.

But then I read on in Whitley's piece:

"Why is this guy seemingly immune to all the laws of golf? . . . 'It's why you work all those tireless hours,' he [Woods] said. 'It's why you get up at 0-Dong-30 and log your miles, bust your tail in the gym.'. . .

Those moments look easy because he's done all the hard stuff. . . . Woods has more talent than all of them, but that doesn't fully explain why he's so much better. It really comes down to a dedication that never ends. . . .

After that [earlier, less than perfect] round he and caddie Steve Williams went back to the range at Isleworth. Woods pounded balls until a no-way miss started kicking in. . . .

Everybody will remember that last birdie putt [of 24 feet on the 18th green], but Woods was relishing the 167-yard [five iron] shot that set it up.

It was the product of the extra range time he put in. Only this time, his caddie was joined by millions of other eyes to see the make-or-break moment. . . .

He made it look easy. . . . 'Well, I have to keep working and keep progressing,'Woods said. 'And keep working on my game.'

It's no mistake he said 'working' twice. With Tiger the wins never stop because the work never ends."
When President Lyndon Johnson was referred to as "Lucky Lyndon" he would sometimes respond, "Yes, they call me 'Lucky Lyndon,' but I've always found the harder I work the luckier I get." Samuel Goldwyn, Donald Trump, and Gary Player, among others, have also commented on the relationship between work and "luck."

Could it be that Geraldine Ferraro's theory requires a little more refinement?

Could it be that Senator Barack Obama's qualities like ability, hard work, a quality education, achievement, and the sense of fairness and social justice that underly his vision of the future, of our coming together, delivered with a real public speaking ability -- like Tiger Woods' golfing ability coupled with his hard work, dedication and focus -- are a better explanation of Obama's popularity in political rallies, primaries and caucuses across our land than his skin color?

Could it be that, notwithstanding the progress we have made in race relations over the past 50 years, the success of Tiger Woods and Barack Obama has less to do with being black and more to do with having to overcome being black, and to do so by working harder, and achieving more -- spectacularly more -- than had they been white?

Now that's a concept that Ferraro, of all people, should understand. (As male and female feminists alike occasionally note, "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did -- only backwards and in high heels.")

If the answer to "WWGFS?" involves that insight she may, indeed, be on to something.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

"Least-Worst" Florida, Michigan Solution

March 15, 2008, 7:15 a.m.

Here's a 'Least-Worst' Solution for Florida, Michigan

Nicholas Johnson

Des Moines Register

March 15, 2008, p. A11

As president, Bill Clinton used to talk about those who "work hard and play by the rules." He and his wife are still working hard. They just don't want to play by the rules.

The Democratic National Committee's rules for this primary season -- agreed to by all -- were that the penalty for additional states moving their primaries earlier would be the inability to have their delegates seated at the party's national convention. Candidates were not to campaign or otherwise participate in such states' primaries. The nominee would be whoever got the most delegates (elected and super) from rules-abiding states.

Florida and Michigan gambled that their ultimate role in candidate selection would be greatest by violating the rules, thereby gaining the impact of earlier primary results in exchange for sacrificing the ability to seat their delegates.

Like the choice of "buy, sell or hold" in the stock market, it turned out they sold when they should have held. Their originally scheduled times would have given them real leverage. Now they're left raking through the rubble, searching for the "least-worst" way out.

If any delegates from those states are seated, it will render the Democratic National Committee and its rules toothless. But political opportunists don't find that troubling.

Sen. Hillary Clinton also violated the rules, by keeping her name on the Florida and Michigan ballots. (Even without Sen. Barack Obama on the Michigan ballot, 40 percent of the Democratic Party voters preferred "uncommitted" to voting for her.) She now insists "her delegates" from these uncontested primaries be seated. At a minimum, she wants a mulligan: "do-over" primaries.

But even those who consider politics a game acknowledge it's not golf. You don't take your mulligan six months later on a different golf course. Like trying to make a soufflé rise twice, asking voters to make a second trek to the polls cannot possibly re-create what would have happened had both states played by the rules.

And wouldn't it be a little odd if the "penalty" for violating their party's rules would not only permit Florida and Michigan to seat the delegates they expressly sacrificed, but to choose them in a do-over when the results will have the maximum possible impact on candidate selection?

Fair play aside, what would be gained by do-overs? If they only add to Obama's elected delegate lead, they'd change nothing. If they narrow, or reverse, his lead such that, with the super delegates, Clinton is able to snatch the party's nomination, it will be seen as unfair, old-style politics of the worst kind.

This would be precisely the sort of special-interest-funded, manipulative, do-anything-to-win politics Obama and his supporters advocate be changed.

How will the newly found independents and youthful Obama enthusiasts he has managed to turn out by the tens of thousands at rallies, and million-plus in caucuses and primaries, respond to such a result? They may vote Republican, third party, or just stay home. Undoubtedly, some will leave politics sufficiently disillusioned never to return.

Many, including me, believe the "least-worst" solution would be to go ahead and violate the party's rules, seat delegations from Florida and Michigan, but allocate those states' delegates' votes according to the percentages of total elected delegates each candidate has earned nationally in rule-abiding states.

Although this weakens the Democratic National Committee's rule-making ability, it welcomes the prodigal son-shine state and Michigan -- fourth- and eighth-largest in the United States -- back into the fold of the faithful. It avoids giving Clinton a second bite of an apple she never should have initially tasted. It is fair to both candidates, increasing the delegate count of each by the margins they actually earned.

And, not incidentally, it saves for the general election the $10 million to $20 million or more the party and its contributors will otherwise have to spend to conduct these additional primaries.
NICHOLAS JOHNSON, a native Iowan, former Federal Communications Commission member and congressional candidate, writes about Iowa and Washington in his blog,

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Hillary Makes Up "Experience"

March 14, 2008, 8:45 p.m., 9:40 p.m.; March 21, 2008, 7:30 a.m.

[Add-item, March 21: An update today on this topic is both balanced and consistent with what I reported earlier. Peter Baker and Karen DeYoung, "Clinton's Experience Is Debated; While Not a Foreign Crisis Player, She Carried U.S. Message," Washington Post, March 21, 2008, p. A6 ("While Clinton's advertisements have boasted that she is best prepared for a 3 a.m. crisis phone call, the schedules contain no evidence that Clinton was at the table during major national security decisions. They do not list her as attending National Security Council meetings or joining briefings in the Situation Room. She did not have a national security clearance. And the documents make clear that at moments of major crisis, Clinton was often busy with her own agenda.")]

Senator Clinton's Claims of Credit for Children's Health Care Challenged

I have written earlier of Hillary Clinton's "lack of qualifications" generally, notwithstanding her very general and unsupported assertions of "35 years of experience" and "you know my record." [Nicholas Johnson, "Hillary's Lack of Qualifications," March 8-12, 2008.] Now it turns out that some of the "experience" she specifically claims may be at best wildly exaggerated, and at worst just flat wrong.

The Boston Globe reports today [March 14] that those who were responsible for SCHIP (children's health care) are irritated by, and factually refuting, Senator Hillary Clinton's campaigning on, and repeatedly taking credit for, the program the White House actually opposed while she was living there. Susan Milligan, "Clinton Role in Health Program Disputed," The Boston Globe, March 14, 2008. (Candidate Clinton's Web site says that, as First Lady, "She was instrumental in designing and championing" the program.)

Rather than summarize or comment about the Globe's story, I'll just provide some brief excerpts and let them speak for themselves.

This is apparently something of a pattern for Senator Hillary Clinton. Following the Globe story are some excerpts from Time magazine's take on two additional examples of her exaggerating her "accomplishments" in Ireland and Kosovo.

# # #

Clinton Role in Health Program Disputed

By Susan Milligan

The Boston Globe

March 14, 2008

WASHINGTON - Hillary Clinton, who has frequently described herself on the campaign trail as playing a pivotal role in forging a children's health insurance plan, had little to do with crafting the landmark legislation or ushering it through Congress, according to several lawmakers, staffers, and healthcare advocates involved in the issue.

In campaign speeches, Clinton describes the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, as an initiative "I helped to start." Addressing Iowa voters in November, Clinton said, "in 1997, I joined forces with members of Congress and we passed the State Children's Health Insurance Program." Clinton regularly cites the number of children in each state who are covered by the program, and mothers of sick children have appeared at Clinton campaign rallies to thank her.

But the Clinton White House, while supportive of the idea of expanding children's health, fought the first SCHIP effort, spearheaded by Senators Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah . . .. And several current and former lawmakers and staff said Hillary Clinton had no role in helping to write the congressional legislation, which grew out of a similar program approved in Massachusetts in 1996.

"The White House wasn't for it. We really roughed them up" in trying to get it approved over the Clinton administration's objections, Hatch said in an interview. "She may have done some advocacy [privately] over at the White House, but I'm not aware of it."

. . . "We all care about children. But does she deserve credit for SCHIP? No . . .."

. . . Hatch, a longtime Kennedy friend, said he didn't want to criticize Clinton, but felt that the record should be set straight about how the SCHIP program was developed. . . .

[P]rivately, some lawmakers and staff members are fuming over what they see as Clinton's exaggeration of her role in developing SCHIP, including her campaign ads claiming she "helped create" the program. The irritation has grown since Nov. 1, when Clinton . . . missed a Senate vote to extend the SCHIP program . . ..

Kennedy said he patterned the SCHIP plan on a similar program Massachusetts had approved in 1996. Kennedy's account was backed up by two Bay State healthcare advocates who met with Kennedy in Boston to discuss the possibility of taking the idea nationwide: Dr. Barry Zuckerman, director of pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, and John McDonough, then a Democratic state legislator and now the executive director of Health Care for All, a healthcare advocacy group.

. . . McDonough, a Democrat who has not endorsed a presidential candidate, also said it was Kennedy who developed the SCHIP idea after that meeting. "I don't recall any signs of Mrs. Clinton's engagement," McDonough said. "[I]t . . . is demonstrably not the case" that she was driving the effort, he said.

After meeting Zuckerman and McDonough, Kennedy sought out Hatch, and the two worked on the bill together, offering it as an amendment to a budget resolution. But President Clinton - much to the surprise and anger of Kennedy - lobbied Democratic lawmakers to oppose the Hatch-Kennedy amendment, the lawmakers and staff members said.

"It was a bipartisan bill. I don't remember the role of the White House," said Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who has not endorsed a candidate in the presidential race and who was the chief Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which deals with health matters. "It did not originate at the White House."

# # #

Here's what Time magazine has to say about her claims regarding Ireland and Kosovo (in an article that also discusses the SCHIP claims). Karen Tumulty, Michael Duffy and Massimo Calabresi, "Assessing Clinton's 'Experience,'" Time, March 13, 2008:

In her race to win the democratic nomination against a first-term Senator from Illinois, Hillary Clinton has put the criterion of experience front and center. She often references what she says is 35 years of work that qualifies her to run the country. And the most important achievements Clinton cites are the ones she claims from her years as First Lady . . ..

Northern Ireland


On the campaign trail, Clinton has claimed she "helped to bring peace to Northern Ireland" in the 1990s.

. . . Her involvement was more about generating public and private support for peace talks in the months leading up to that agreement.

It's a key distinction. . . .

[S]everal diplomatic sources who worked on the peace talks say that the women's groups were not nearly as pivotal to the process as Hillary's backers maintain. And Lord Trimble of Lisnagarvey, former First Minister of Northern Ireland, told Britain's Daily Telegraph that Clinton was not involved in the process and her claims to have played a direct role were "a wee bit silly."

. . .Jean Kennedy Smith, former ambassador to Ireland, referring to a women's organization in the country [said], "But as far as anything political went, there was nothing as far as I know, nothing to do with negotiations" [noting that] the process was well under way by the time Clinton got involved.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Clinton played a role in hearing the concerns of Irish women left out of the peace process, . . .. But that does not mean she rolled up her sleeves and conducted or led the talks that resulted in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Macedonia Refugees


"I negotiated open borders to let fleeing refugees into safety from Kosovo," Clinton has asserted when asked to identify an example of her foreign policy experience.

. . . When Clinton arrived in the middle of the situation in that May, diplomats on the ground expected an ineffectual high-profile visit. But . . . Clinton visited refugees in camps on the border and held talks with the Macedonian leadership.

When the Prime Minister complained about American companies terminating textile contracts with local firms, Clinton promised to urge the businesses to change course. . . .

THE BOTTOM LINE: In the case of Macedonia, Clinton engaged in personal diplomacy that brought about change. But securing the return of American business partners is not the same as the opening of borders to thousands of refugees. That accomplishment was a result of broader U.S. and European efforts during the war.

# # #

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Hillary's Lack of Qualifications

March 8, 2008, 11:00 a.m., 3:44, 8:41 p.m.; March 10, 2008, 2:00 p.m.; March 11, 2008, 6:15 p.m.; March 12, 2008, 7:00 a.m.

Hillary's Experience? What experience?

(For a lighthearted "Saturday Night Live" take on these issues March 8 see the video at the end of this blog entry -- where you will also find the results from Wyoming and Mississippi.)

There's been a lot of talk during the Democratic Party's primaries and caucuses about the "experience" and "qualifications" of the candidates.

Senator Hillary Clinton recently surrounded herself with former military officers and American flags and simply proclaimed that both she and Senator John McCain had the experience and qualifications to be "commander-in-chief" -- by which she clearly meant the ability to deal appropriately with another terrorist attack or other domestic emergency, or to take the country into a war that would be professionally conducted and decisively won. About the same time her campaign was running this "3:00 a.m. phone call" political commercial -- showing sleeping children, with an anxious parent fearful for their safety, the commercial asks in effect, "Who do you want in the White House dealing with emergencies of sufficient seriousness that the president must be awakened at 3:00 a.m. to deal with them?" and then closes with a shot of Senator Clinton talking on the phone. (This is the commercial spoofed in the "Saturday Night Live" video.)

I won't comment on the appropriateness of conducting a campaign based on fear -- as President Bush and Vice President Cheney have done with 9/11 and their justifications for starting, and continuing, a war in Iraq. Nor will I dwell on the wisdom of her building up Senator McCain in her effort to contend that she is just as qualified as he is. My point for now is merely the "experience" factor.

For when the Clinton campaign was pressed to provide even one example of her ever having been confronted with a situation remotely similar to what was suggested by the "3:00 a.m. phone call" commercial her campaign spokespersons were, of course, unable to do so.

Not only has she provided little more than her own assertions for the proposition that she is "ready," and "tested," and "experienced," and "qualified" to be "commander-in-chief," her attacks on Senator Obama are equally devoid of support.

She asserts that while she and Senator McCain have the qualifications to be commander-in-chief all that Senator Obama has is a speech in 2002.

This is not the only context in which she has attacked his "lack of experience," ignored the existence of, and substance in, the long list of policy positions on his Web site, or endeavored to trivialize the significance of his charisma, the crowds he has attracted (not to mention the delegate lead he has amassed), the new voters he has potentially brought into the Democratic Party camp, and the education, experience, and philosophical foundations on which he has drawn to bring this about.

There is a hearty irony to her attempt to contrast her "experience" with his.

Don't take my word for it. Read her own words on her Web site. Under "Hillary" the most relevant portions are "Mother & Advocate," "First Lady," and "U.S. Senator." As you read through this material you can't help but be impressed (or depressed) with her almost total absence of administrative experience, and the extent to which her claimed "experience" is precisely what she criticizes in that of Senator Obama: speeches, writing, and "advocacy."

Here are some illustrative excerpts.

"Hillary went to Wellesley College, where she was chosen by her classmates to be the first-ever student commencement speaker. [That's the very first sentence.] . . . Next came Yale Law School, where Hillary . . . began her decades of work as an advocate for children and families. As a law student, Hillary . . . worked on some of the earliest studies . . .. When Bill was elected Governor of Arkansas, Hillary continued to advocate for children . . .. She . . . played a pioneering role in raising awareness of issues . . ..

[As First Lady.] When her husband was elected President in 1992, Hillary's work as a champion for women was recognized . . .. She traveled the globe speaking out against the degradation and abuse of women . . .. In the White House, Hillary led efforts to . . .. She helped launch . . .. Thanks in part to her efforts, . . .. As everyone knows, Hillary's fight for universal health coverage did not succeed. But her commitment to health care for every American has never wavered. She was instrumental in . . .. Hillary's 1995 book It Takes A Village, . . . became an international best seller. . . . Hillary's autobiography, Living History, was also a best seller.

[As U.S. Senator.] In 2000, Hillary was elected to the United States Senate [and] . . . continued her advocacy for children and families . . .. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Hillary worked with her colleagues . . .. She fought to provide . . .. And she continues to work for . . .. She is . . . working to see that . . .. She has visited troops in Iraq and Afghanistan . . .. She has learned first-hand the challenges . . .. Hillary passed legislation . . .. She is an original sponsor of legislation that . . .. She has introduced legislation to . . .. She has supported a variety of . . .. She helped pass legislation that . . .. She has championed legislation to . . .. In the Senate, Hillary has not wavered in her work to . . .. She worked to . . .. She authored . . .. She sponsored legislation . . .. [She] is now leading the fight for . . .. Her strong advocacy for children continues in the Senate. Some of Hillary's proudest achievements have been her . . . legislation . . ., and her legislation to . . .. She has also proposed . . .. She has passed legislation . . .. Hillary has been a powerful advocate for . . .. Her commitment to supporting . . . was hailed by the New York Times as "frank talk. . .." Hillary is one of the original cosponsors . . .. Hillary is strongly committed to . . .. She introduced the . . .."
Now let me put these quotes in context to explain what I do, and do not, mean to suggest with them.

My limited point is simply that her "experience," like that of Senators Obama and McCain, is primarily "life experience" -- plus some useful (but not, standing alone, presidentially-qualifying) legislative experience. Her public interest work, life as First Lady, and brief senate career have been primarily a work of words -- the very thing for which she criticizes Senator Obama in her efforts to set herself apart as somehow more qualified than he is.

That is not to say that she has not spoken out on and written about important issues, volunteered for and otherwise contributed to the staff and boards of non-profit organizations, voted for and otherwise aligned herself with legislation -- much of which I would have agreed with, and even found commendable.

[March 14: However, a little caution may be in order in accepting her assertions of credit for some of what she claims. See Nicholas Johnson, "Hillary Makes Up 'Experience,'" March 14, 2008 (according to a Boston Globe expose, those who actually created and worked to pass the children's health program called SCHIP are irritated by, and refuting, her taking credit for it. Her Web site says that as First Lady "She was instrumental in designing and championing" the program. That blog entry also provides Time magazine's comparable take with regard to her Ireland and Kosovo claims).]

The reason there are ellipses in the place of subject matter in the excerpts above is not because I think those subjects irrelevant or unworthy. It is because the point I wish to make is that each, however commendable, involves speaking and writing. What "championed," "fighting" or "working for" mean in the legislative context is writing and speaking. They mean assigning staff members responsibility for coming up with new legislation (or merely signing on to bills authored by others), questioning witnesses testifying during sub-committee meetings, and talking to colleagues. They do not even necessarily mean that any legislation was ever enacted.

Senators make speeches -- some are creative and courageous speeches, some are lackluster and corrupt speeches, some are speeches they have actually written themselves (though this is rare) and others are merely speeches read from texts provided by staff members or lobbyists. (I have written Senators' speeches on behalf of clients.) But the activity in which senators are engaged, the "experience" they are gaining when they are "fighting" for this or that, is speaking experience.

Clearly, such legislative experience is not insignificant. It's useful experience for a president to have had. It's just not all the experience a president needs.

We take our politics seriously in Iowa.

So prior to the Iowa caucuses I tried to think through a set of "neutral principles" for comparing presidential candidates, and then summarized them in an op ed that was headlined, "Qualities to Keep in Mind When Picking a President" (Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 22, 2008; reproduced in the blog entry, Nicholas Johnson, "Op Ed: Caucus Choices Analysis," December 22, 2008).

Here are some excerpts from that column:

• Forget "electability." Any Democratic Party nominee is electable in 2008. (Although Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's high negatives create some risk.) Consider their ability to govern.

Experience at everything

All have "experience" at something. But a president needs experience at everything. Who has the broadest, deepest range of experience?

An American president is policy wonk in chief as well as commander in chief. Federal personnel director as well as national cheerleader. They must maintain our economy while improving our foreign relations. Above all, they must have superior, large-institution administrative skills and experience.

When they negotiate and deal with other major institutions it gives them credibility as well as real understanding if they've worked within them: Congress, cabinet positions, municipal and state governments, international organizations, and negotiations with foreign leaders.

We don't have a school for presidents. There's no parliamentary system to provide the ultimate prime ministers both administrative and legislative experience.

Quality rankings

So here are the qualities I'm looking for . . ..

• Experience administering large institutions (state or large city governments, corporations [cabinet departments]) . . ..

• A "people person" with charisma or down-home manner, sense of humor (including self-deprecation), or what Molly Ivins called "Elvis" . . ..

• The understanding and credibility earned by working inside both Washington's executive and legislative branches [cabinet departments, independent regulatory commissions, House and Senate] . . ..

• A willingness to put forward courageous, "best policy" proposals, rather than "starting off backing up" . . ..

• Experience working inside international organizations (e.g., U.N., World Bank). . ..

• Understanding of the elements and process of citizen empowerment [e.g., community organizing]. . ..

• An understanding of foreign policy (as distinguished from administering it) . . ..

• An ability to work with, but an independence from, special interest money and influence (the "Washington Establishment") . . ..

However, Clinton's strength in this department is her weakness. She and Bill could probably name all of their 4,000 presidential appointees in one evening without notes. But part of the reason for their millions from corporate lobbyists and PACs is the Washington Establishment's expectation of another pro-corporate, business-as-usual Clinton administration.

• Experience negotiating with foreign leaders . . ..

• Champion of the underdog . . ..
The column included evaluations by these standards of what was then a large field of candidates. While it did not conclude with an endorsement, New Mexico's Governor Bill Richardson obviously was well ranked.

He had, after all, experience in state government (as a governor), federal executive branch government (cabinet; Secretary of Energy), legislative (U.S. House of Representatives), international organizations (U.N. Ambassador), and negotiation (more than one successful release of hostages from hostile countries).

Senators in general, this year's crop of finalists, and Senator Hillary Clinton in particular, do not score very well by these standards -- certainly not well enough for her legitimately to be able to argue that she is "tested" and "qualified" to be president (and "commander-in-chief") while Senator Obama, by contrast, just "doesn't have the necessary experience."

She has not been a mayor, governor, or cabinet officer. She's never served in a state legislature or the U.S. House. She's never held a position in an international organization. She has never (so far as I know) been involved in hostage, trade, treaty or other international negotiations. She's never served in the military or worked in a civilian capacity in the Defense Department. So far as I know, as First Lady she did not even have the clearance to see classified documents that I had as U.S. Maritime Administrator. She's never run a major state or federal government department, or even functioned as a corporate CEO.

I do not assert that Senator Obama is more qualified, or has more experience, than has Senator Clinton -- nor, it should be noted, does he make that claim. Frankly, I think that while their life, and legislative, experiences are somewhat different, they are not, to borrow a phrase, "differences that make a difference" when it comes to their qualifications as a potential president.

If anything, Senator Obama has three additional relevant categories of experience that she does not. One is state legislative experience. (Not incidentally, when his years in the Illinois legislature are added to his years in the U.S. Senate he ends up having more years of legislative experience than she has.) Second, his race, his ties to Kenya, his having lived in Indonesia and among the diverse populations of Hawaii, exceed in my view -- but at least equal -- the ability to improve America's relations abroad that Senator Clinton may have gained from "traveling in 80 countries." Finally, and for reasons I won't take space, and your time, to lay out now, I put enormous weight on his community organizing experience that I believe underlies much, if not all, of what makes him qualified to be president, an authentic agent of change, and so attractive to millions.

But I'm not making the argument, and accepting responsibility for sustaining the burden of proof, that he is more qualified to be president than she -- only that I think Senator Clinton is not creditable and cannot be taken seriously when she asserts that she should be the preferred choice because she is so much more qualified than he is.

(Nor do I find persuasive the demographic arguments put forward by the Clinton camp:

The issue cannot be constructively characterized as how they've done, one-on-one, running against each other in Democratic Party primaries. It means little that she has, sometimes, drawn more heavily than he from natural Democratic Party demographic groups -- whites, without college education, earning under $50,000 a year (as he has drawn more heavily than her from others). Remember that it is Democratic Party primaries we're talking about here.

The question should be: What evidence is there that -- in a match-up between Senators Obama and McCain -- Democratic Party voters and Independents who voted in primaries for Senator Clinton would vote for Senator McCain rather than Senator Obama? I know of none (although I do have a smattering of anecdotal evidence regarding Independents and Democrats who have told me their first preference is Senator Obama, but that if Senator Clinton ends up as the nominee they will vote for Senator McCain). I don't see that it makes a lot of difference, standing alone, how demographic groups have aligned between Senators Clinton and Obama in a given Democratic Party primary. Moreover, most of the polls I have seen indicate pretty consistently that in one-on-one match-ups with Senator McCain, Senator Obama beats him by more than does Senator Clinton -- most recently 12 points to 6 points.)
There are two things she's done that might be thought of as quasi-administrative in nature.

(1) One was the assignment she had, such as it was, to come up with a health care plan for the Clinton Administration. As an "administrator" of that assignment her failed performance ranked with President Bush's administrative skills with Katrina and management of the Iraq War. Even Senator Clinton acknowledges on her Web site, "As everyone knows, Hillary's fight for universal health coverage did not succeed."

(2) The other is her administration of her current presidential campaign. Even her cheerleader-in-chief, her husband and former president Bill Clinton, acknowledges it has been a disaster. Starting off with more money from lobbyists and PACs than any other candidate in either party (I believe), and one of the most powerful political organizations of the 20th Century, with predictions all around that it was hers to lose -- Senator Obama, coming out of nowhere, has been able to amass more state victories (12 in a row at one point), virtually all caucus victories, more popular votes, and more elected delegates (currently about a 150 delegate margin). Her staff has been bickering, some have left, money has been squandered, she had to loan her campaign $5 million of her own money (while continuing to refuse to make public -- as Senator Obama has -- the tax returns that might indicate where that money came from), the campaign's focus continues to shift from "experience" to "solutions" to "tears" to "humor" ("Saturday Night Live" and "The Daily Show") to, now that she's finally "found her voice," a slash and burn, throw everything including the kitchen sink at Senator Obama whether it's true or not, negative campaign.
This is not just a very thin resume for someone aspiring to assume the most complex administrative job in the world, it's also not very reassuring.

(By contrast, David Wilhelm, Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign chairman who has endorsed Senator Obama, says of the Senator's efforts: “'He has out-worked her, out-organized her and out-raised her, . . .. I know organizational excellence when I see it, and the Obama campaign, win or lose, will serve as a model' of execution of strategy, message discipline, application of new technology and small-donor fund raising." Katharine Q. Seelye, "Bill Clinton Campaign Chair Goes for Obama," New York Times: The Caucus, February 13, 2008, 1:58 p.m.

And: "'Senator Obama went where he had to go,' said former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack (D), a Clinton backer. 'They had a well-thought-out strategic plan, and they carried it out with real discipline.'" Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray, "Downside of Obama Strategy; Losses in Big States Spur General-Election Fears," Washington Post, March 8, 2008, p. A1.)

She repeatedly refers to her "35 years of experience" -- essentially a reference to everything she's done since leaving law school -- without ever specifying what it was, not to mention how much of it was truly relevant to the work of a president (and, if so, why).

Clearly, she does have seven years' legislative experience as a U.S. Senator -- far less than Senator McCain, but not significantly less than Senator Obama. She has had the "life experience" (including law practice and service on boards) I've already mentioned.

But how much credit can she claim as the spouse of a governor and a president? Based on my own experience, not much.

Do you gain insights and anecdotes from being around (or married to) another? Absolutely. But there is an enormous difference between having decisional responsibility, and merely offering comfort and sympathy to someone who does.

I served as a law clerk to a U.S. Court of Appeals judge (the 5th Circuit's Judge John R. Brown) and a U.S. Supreme Court justice (Justice Hugo Black). (I've just returned from a reunion dinner in the Supreme Court building with other Justice Black clerks and family.) Those experiences, and my ability to extrapolate from them in imagining what other judges do, gives me insights into the judicial process I might otherwise not have. Do they qualify me to be a Court of Appeals judge or Supreme Court justice? Of course not. Would they be of some marginal use were I to be a judge? I suppose.

My wife, Mary Vasey, is one of the nation's experts on "alternative education." She was one of the first to be picked for the national faculty of the Coalition of Essential Schools. She was an early faculty member of Metro High School in Cedar Rapids -- which twice won the U.S. President's award as one of the nation's best high schools. She helped plan the Iowa City alternative high school, Tate. Having retired from Metro, her love of the work, and skill at doing it, is such that she continues to volunteer her time at Tate.

I've lived with her for nearly 20 years. I've heard her after-school stories of what we call in church, the "joys and sorrows" of an alternative high school teacher. I've attended alternative high school events over the years, and come to know other teachers. Mary and I usually talk policy and politics at breakfast, and often that discussion involves K-12 issues.

Does my having been a spouse of an alternative high school teacher qualify me to be one? Not on your life; of that I am unalterably confident. I wouldn't last a week.

Similarly, I don't think being the wife of a governor provides the experience of being a governor, and I don't think being the wife of a president is the equivalent of the experience of being a president.

Think about it. If she were still Senator Hillary Rodham, if she did not have the name recognition that comes from what she went through as Bill Clinton's wife, if she did not have his last name, would she now be one of the entrants, let alone one of the two finalists, in the Democratic Party's presidential primary process based on her "experience"? I don't think so.

What about her foreign policy "experience"? "I've traveled to 80 countries," she tells us. What she fails to tell us is what she did in those countries. Was she there as a U.S. Ambassador, embassy employee, military officer or even Peace Corps worker? As the United States' U.N. Ambassador? As a U.N. (or other international organization's) official? Was she engaged in negotiations of any kind -- whether on behalf of American corporations, improved trade relations, seeking the release of hostages, or to obtain treaties? So far as I know, the answer is "no" to all of the above. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe these were, for the most part, "showing the flag," publicity and ceremonial visits.

President Kennedy once introduced himself as "the man who accompanied Jackie Kennedy to France." Notwithstanding that exalted billing, I don't think Jackie Kennedy would have suggested even that role qualified her to run for president.

I've traveled to something like 40 countries. Some have been holidays -- although even then I often would call on public officials or others related to my work. Other trips have involved working with foreign officials on official government business. Frankly, I would not begin to suggest that my 40 countries made me half as qualified to be president as Senator Clinton's 80 countries. I wouldn't even suggest it would qualify me to be an Assistant Secretary of State.

Has her travel been of some marginal benefit in contributing to her understanding other cultures and nations? I would assume so. That's one of the values of travel -- for anyone who's sufficiently humble and observant. I just think she's making far, far too much of it.

I would never say any of the three senators is "unqualified" to be president. I just don't think any of them -- especially Senator Clinton -- can make the case that they do have the experience and qualifications to be president while one of the others does not.

I think the following "Saturday Night Live" sketch from March 8, 2008, puts in perspective Senator Clinton's portrayal of the alleged contrast between her experience and that of Senator Obama. (If you get an "error" message in using the video below, use the link above.)

And see also, Matthew Yglesias, "Experience Gap," The, March 11, 2008, 9:42 a.m., which reproduces a memorandum from Greg Craig, former director, State Department Policy Planning staff (e.g., "When your entire campaign is based upon a claim of experience, it is important that you have evidence to support that claim. Hillary Clinton’s argument that she has passed 'the Commander-in-Chief test' is simply not supported by her record" -- following which he details the supporting data.)

The video appears to be no longer available. However, here is a transcript of the text:
Episode 1526 | Season 33 | 03/08/2008

Cold Open: An Unfair and Deceptive Message from Hillary Clinton

It's 3 A.M. and the phone rings somewhere in our nation's capital. President Obama calls Hillary in desperate need of help. Iran has developed a nuclear device with the help of the axis of evil. They've lied to him, and now he's in a blind, unreasoning panic born from inexperience. What's Obama to do?

Hillary tells Obama to man up. Russia will back down or risk violating the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Hillary insists that the Secretary of State can explain, but Obama doubts that Secretary Sharpton can, admitting this wasn't his best appointment. Obama thanks Hillary and apologizes for calling every night, glossing over her request for payment if he's going to keep calling. He would trade all of his superficial charm and rock star appeal for an iota of Hillary's capabilities.

Hillary admits that what we've just witnessed is a dramatization, based on facts. Well, not facts, but what she calls specious campaign talking points. If you want a better future for our country, it's not too late. Call or write the offices of the Democratic National Committee. With enough pressure, we can convince party leaders that they've made a huge mistake. And one more thing... Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!

EXTRA - MISSISSIPPI UPDATE - The Washington Post is reporting this morning [March 12, 7:00 a.m.] that, with 90% of Mississippi's precincts reporting, Senator Obama received 60% of the votes (221,874) and Senator Clinton received 38% (142,671). This translates into 17 delegates for Senator Obama (for a total of 1596) and 11 for Senator Clinton (bringing her total to 1484) -- a 112 delegate margin for Senator Obama.

The New York Times reports [March 12, 7:20 a.m.] that with 99% of the precincts reporting Barack Obama has 60.7% of the votes (253,441) and Hillary Rodham Clinton has 37.1% (154,852)-- and says the 33 pledged delegate allocation has yet to be determined. It calculates the elected delegate totals to be 1348 Obama to 1210 Clinton -- a 138 vote margin for Senator Obama -- while reporting the Associated Press' calculation to be 1385 to 1237, a 148-vote spread. With super delegates it's 1510 to 1403 (107 spread) from the Times and 1596 to 1484 (a 112 spread) from the AP.

EXTRA - WYOMING UPDATE (March 8, 2008, 8:41 p.m. CT): With 100% Precincts Reporting Obama has 61% of the Votes, Clinton 38%.

Wyoming Democratic Caucus

Candidate. . . . Votes. .%
Barack Obama. . .5,378. .61
Hillary Clinton. 3,312. .38
Other. . . . . . . .70. .1
Key: Red Checkmark Winner
Precincts: 100% | Updated: 9:41 PM ET | Source: AP [as reported on Washington Post Web site] Delegates at stake: 12; Obama 7, Clinton 5

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Voting for Our Great-Grandchildren

March 7, 2008, 8:25 a.m.

This morning there's a lot more at stake on the forthcoming November 4, 2008, election day -- less than eight months from now -- than there was yesterday morning.

No, I'm not talking about the three senators, Obama, McCain and Clinton.

I'm talking about something that is going to have a lot longer-lasting impact on eastern Iowans than the good (or harm) caused by a one or two-term U.S. president.

Yesterday morning the Johnson County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pursue the preparation of a ballot proposition that would authorize a $20 million bond issue to be used for the acquisition of additional land for natural resource preservation.

To pass, it will require not just a 50% approval, but a 60% approval.

So that means that those who care about what they will be leaving their great-grandchildren have very little time to get organized and begin the process of community education and dialog regarding what's at stake.

Fortunately, that process has begun.

Here are links to this morning's [March 7] stories about yesterday's Board action, and early stirrings of organized support: Rachel Gallegos, "Supes OK $20 million bond issue," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 7, 2008, p. A3; Gregg Hennigan, "Johnson sends $20 million bond to voters; Funds would be used to buy undeveloped land for preservation," The Gazette, March 7, 2008, p. B1.

In a recent Press-Citizen op ed column I wrote:

Is it too late? Is our land already too expensive to save?

That was the question confronting some New York legislators in 1853. New York City's population had nearly quadrupled since 1821. It was a terrible time to buy land with prices at an all-time high. The 700 acres they wanted would cost $5 million -- then an extraordinary amount of public money. But in a triumph of foresight over political fear they did it. Today we call it "Central Park," and this gem of Manhattan has increased 100,000 times in value to something over $500 billion -- a half-trillion dollars!

The opportunities confronting Johnson and Linn Counties today are no less politically challenging --and potentially rewarding.
Nicholas Johnson, "Preserving for Our Grandchildren," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 20, 2008, p. A13, reproduced in the blog entry, Nicholas Johnson, "Greenbelts for Grandchildren," February 15/20, 2008.

In an age in which corporate progress is measured in quarterly profit statements and daily stock prices, and members of Congress are forced to focus on re-elections never more than two years into the future, it's difficult to get folks to think 20 or 50 years ahead -- never mind feeling concern for the generations living 150 years from now (such as those New Yorkers now benefiting from the political courage of the New York legislators who gambled $5 million on what has become today's $500 billion Central Park).

But it's that kind of forward thinking that has given us our system of National Parks and Forests, and the few state, county and city parks we have in Iowa. It's those kinds of selfless efforts that benefit today's Britishers, living in a country in which 12% of the land is devoted to "Greenbelts" surrounding the major cities.

To learn more about these issues and opportunities, to find links to the resources provided by dozens of organizations and agencies, excerpts from the local media stories about preservation of our natural resources, news regarding the proposed bond issue, and background information about the Greenbelt movement, we've created the GO IOWA! (for "Great Outdoors of Iowa") Web site for you:

Check it out!

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Primary Thoughts: Gingham Dogs & Calico Cats

March 6, 2008, 12:30 p.m.

Nobody "Wins States"

Following Super Tuesday I commented here about what seemed to me the media's misrepresentation of the story. Nicholas Johnson, "The Meaning of 'Win,'" February 6, 2008.

To borrow and play on James Carville's wall poster for Bill Clinton, "It's the delegates, stupid!"

Once again the media talks of state "wins." Obama has "won" 12 straight primary and caucus states. Clinton "won" three out of the four states March 4 (Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island); Obama "won" Vermont.

Of course, the only reason "winning states" is of any consequence at all is because the media says it is. It represents "momentum" for the same reason -- the media bestows it on the "winner."

But the fact remains that what determines who gets the Democratic Party's nomination for president is not who "won" the most states -- or, for that matter, who gets the largest total popular vote.

It's who gets the most national convention delegates -- a calculation admittedly complicated by the so-called "super-delegates" -- but nonetheless a matter of delegates.

So by that standard -- the only standard that really counts -- Obama had over 100 more delegates than Clinton before March 4, and still had over 100 delegates more than Clinton on March 5. Once the delegates awarded that evening were sorted out and allocated she ended up with 12 more than he did -- by some counts. That's what she "won" -- not "three states."

By other counts (namely, those of the Obama camp) the results were even less decisive. There were 370 delegates up for grabs in the four states. Clinton's net gain, they say, was four delegates -- roughly 1 percent of the 370. Her "win" in Texas -- after the caucus delegates are tallied -- may be no more than one delegate more than those Texas delegates now aligned with Obama.

To put this in perspective, Obama had net gains from prior primaries as follows: Georgia, 33; Washington state, 12; Nebraska, 8; and District of Columbia, 9.

After next week (Wyoming and Mississippi, 45 delegates total, and both states in which Obama should do well) there will be no more than 566 pledged delegates. The Obama folks say they now have a 150 pledged delegates lead. If true, that would mean for Clinton to tie she would need to win 358 (566 less 150; divided by 2; plus 150), or roughly 63% of all the remaining delegates -- something somewhere between impossible and extraordinarily unlikely.

In addition to the moral and political force of these numbers ("pledged delegates") for a political party's selection of its nominee, there are also the "super-delegates" -- who also gradually seem to be moving toward Obama as well.

[ (drawing on the AP and other sources) reports:

Of the 795 super delegates, 207 have indicated support for Obama; 242 for Clinton (a 35-vote lead). Among pledged delegates, 1366 are Obama's, 1222 are Clinton's (a 144-vote lead for Obama -- which, even after subtracting Clinton's 35-vote lead among the super delegates, still leaves him with 109 delegates more than Clinton)., using the same general sources reports that -- including super delegates -- Obama has 1564 and Clinton 1463.]

Gingham Dogs and Calico Cats

As a result of these numbers, the perpetuation of the primary fights -- especially given the Clinton camp's effort to win them with "kitchen sink" negative attacks on Obama -- reminds me of Eugene Field's poem about the Gingham Dog and Calico Cat, containing this excerpt:

. . . [T]he gingham dog and calico cat
Wallowed this way and tumbled that,
Employing every tooth and claw
In the awfullest way you ever saw-
And, oh! how the gingham and calico flew!

. . .

Next morning where the two had sat
They found no trace of the dog or cat;

. . .

[T]he truth about the cat and pup
Is this: they ate each other up!
Eugene Field, "The Duel," Poets' Corner.

For Clinton and Obama to continue with attacks and counter attacks weakens the Democratic Party in general and both of them in particular. It consumes tens of millions of dollars that might otherwise have been available for the general election. It increases the difficulty of bringing the Party together around the ultimate nominee.

Polls have consistently shown Obama beating McCain by significantly larger percentages than Clinton. Moreover, she's starting off with relatively high negatives in the public's mind. If Clinton is ultimately successful -- notwithstanding the fact Obama won more pledged delegates -- because she narrowed the gap with the aid of negative campaigning, or because she wins the right to count "her delegates" from Michigan and Florida, or because enough super-delegates vote for her, or through some other manipulation perceived by party members and public alike as fundamentally unfair and "old school politics" -- the Democratic Party may once again succeed in demonstrating its magicians' uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of what would otherwise have been certain victory.

The sooner the Party can put all of this behind it -- as the Republicans, characteristically, have already succeeded in doing -- the better off it will be. Maybe this could be accomplished with some agreement between the two candidates. Maybe it could be done by large numbers of super delegates (who will be necessary for the ultimate nomination) talking with each other and agreeing to delare themselves now as either (a) supporting Obama, or (b) agreeing to support whoever ends up with the most pledged delegates. Neither option seems likely. But the Party fails to act at its peril -- thar is, if it wishes to avoid finding that its candidates, like the Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat, "ate each other up."

Florida and Michigan

All of which brings us to Florida and Michigan.

I'm fuzzy on the details, but the bottom line as I understand it is that the Democratic National Committee announced that any state that moved its primary or caucus earlier in the year would thereby forfeit its right to have its delegates seated at the national convention.

Notwithstanding this rule, Florida (via a Republican governor) and Michigan did so.

A part of the Party's rule was that candidates were not to campaign in those states. Most (there were more than just the two now left standing at that time) stayed out of those states and off of their ballots. Clinton, however, put her name on the ballot (and yet, even with no organized opposition, managed to get no more than about 54% of the votes in Michigan as I recall).

Now there is a movement on the part of Clinton supporters -- including those who voted for the rule excluding Florida and Michigan -- to either (a) count the delegates Clinton won in those two unauthorized primaries, or (b) have "do-over" primaries in which she would get to run a second time.

My own compromise preference -- sort of the "least worst option" -- would be to have delegates from both states, but require them to cast their states' votes at the convention in the same proportion as the proportion of total pledged delegates nationally for each candidate.

The Party will do itself great damage, in my opinion, if it is seen -- by public and Party members alike -- as having established a rule resulting in two states not having delegates, which it then changes with a sort of "oh, never mind" when objections to the rule are raised after the fact. Especially is this so if (a) it is done at the behest of supporters of one of two candidates in a close contest, and (b) doubly especially when, instead of having no delegates these two states are actually rewarded (by circumstance) with the opportunity to have their delegates determine who the nominee will be -- after all the other states (which complied with the rule) have voted.

Anyway you slice it, as Oliver Hardy used to say, "This is a fine mess you've gotten us into" Democrats.

But then there's always a slight change in the lyrics of Merle Haggard's "If We Can Make it Through December":

"If we can make it through November
Everything's going to be all right, I know . . ."
Unfortunately, whether we make it through November is going to turn in large measure on whether we make it through March and April.

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