Friday, March 28, 2008

Memoir of a Half-Life: 1968 (Part 1)

This is a continuation of my slowly-unfolding Memoir of a Half-Life. A description of the work is here, and the introduction is here.


Any year examined closely looks, forty years later, pretty interesting. Modernity’s general shape can still be seen after 40 years, but enough has changed that such a moment has developed a fairly exotic patina. But even so, not all years are created equally. Generally speaking, every leap year is more interesting than non-leap years--there are Olympics and presidential elections. 1968 was these, but it was a lot more than that.

It was loaded with amazing events. While some single events stand out so strongly that a mention of the year is sufficient to reference them--1929, 1941--it might be hard to find a year with as many big events as 1968: the assassinations of MLK and RFK; My Lai and the Tet Offensive; Prague Spring and French May; the Democratic riots in Chicago and the election of Richard Nixon. LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act. Valerie Solanis shot Warhol. France detonated a nuclear bomb and becomes the fifth nuclear power. There were coups and riots all over the world (including one in Baghdad by a young Saddam Hussein), and black American athletes famously gave the Black Power salute at the Olympics. But even those events don't capture what was really important about 1968.

The history of the 20th Century swung on two hinges. The first, in 1932, was a response to the stock market collapse of 1929. It precipitated the great compression, the rise of the middle class, and the emergence of the US as a superpower. Politically, it represented a triumph for the masses over the economic and cultural elites, reorienting cultural values toward collectivism and away from individualism. Equally as radically, the period also saw the end to legal racial preferences—in place, despite a civil war, for over 150 years. The second hinge came a symmetrical 36 years later, dividing the century neatly into thirds. While the first evidence of the change came in the mid-60s, the key year was 1968, the year I was born.

There are a lot of ways to read history. As a political story, the 20th Century can be seen as a struggle of the wealthy and powerful against the poor and disenfranchised. And, while that narrative has had a powerful effect on my own politics, a more personal story—and arguably the more profoundly transformative—describes the changes in our culture. Unlike the political history, which looks like a game of tug-of-war (the wealthy winning in the first part of the century, the poor and non-white fighting back in the middle, the wealthy and white back in command by the end), the cultural history has continued to evolve.

Prior to 1932 the US, despite its lofty democratic foundation, offered the mass of its citizens not a whole hell of a lot more than, say, India. More or less, people were on their own. There was a tiny overclass, a vast underclass, and a group who were actively oppressed—in some cases enslaved. They scratched out an existence on the farms or in the factories, their kids took care of them when they were too old to work, and if they were lucky, they died of “natural causes” because they didn’t have more than a country doctor to attend to minor ailments. The radical transformation of the 20th Century came with the recognition that this Darwinian existence could be ameliorated by pooling resources.

The New Deal created for the first time in history a culture of generosity. Our well-being was interconnected. The cultural benefits this produced were profound: we built a war machine that depended on an inconceivable amount of cooperation and generosity; we built the atomic bomb; we went to the moon. So much of what came to be thought of as quintessentially “American” came from this era. The admixture of democratic values, the US’s uniquely classless orientation (whatever the reality), the explosive growth of the middle class, the moral achievements of the civil rights movement, and the monumental national accomplishments of mid-century all produced a sense of a pragmatic, generous, unified country.

And then came 1968.


Next: 1968 (Part two): descent into fear.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Iraq War Profit-Taking

Looks like perspective takes about five years. That is, based on the conservatives who are now admitting that the Iraq war was a debacle. Here's Sullivan and John Cole, to name a couple. On the five-year anniversary last week, I skipped the opportunity to mention my own pre-war analysis, but allow me a moment of intellectual profit-taking. Not so much because it does my vanity well (a quick glance at my traffic dilutes that pride), but because as we get further away from the war, certain things are lost in the haze of memory and wishful thinking.

It was possible to see that the Iraq war was a bad idea from the start; it was possible to see that our invasion was illegal; it was possible to see that the Bush Administration was ginning up rumor and lie to sell a war that met private, undisclosed purposes. Most important, it was very easy to see that the outcome could not be good--even a cursory understanding of the region made it impossible to accept the fantasy engame of flowers, roses, and Jeffersonian democracy that the administration promised. Even if you were a random guy in Portland, Oregon with no access to NIEs or CIA intel. In retrospect, the 75+ percent who thought the war was a good idea have now all agreed on this "but we couldn't know" defense (including Hillary Clinton). But we could know, and we willfully accepted fantasy instead.

Months before the invasion--and even before I started blogging--I wrote a thesis about all the ways in which the argument for war didn't meet its own internal logic. It's a fairly long document, and I won't rehash it here. But there are a few key points I will would like to highlight, for posterity, to refute this "but we didn't know" meme that's circulating. (Props to John and Andrew for their own refutations, which came in the form of mea culpas.)

Claim: Invading Iraq will stabilize the Middle East.
What I wrote then: "Never mind the details, what about the prediction? Invading Afghanistan was a far less controversial move—the Taliban had only been recognized by two other governments (needless to say, they were our allies, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia). Yet that invasion sparked violence in South Asia and Israel, and has subsequently been used to justify aggressive action against “terrorists” by Russia. In fact, there is almost no scenario one can imagine in which an invasion of Iraq does anything but further destabilize the region."

Claim: World opinion is irrelevant.
What I wrote then: Invading Iraq without a world mandate (Tony Blair alone does not count) would essentially turn the US into a rogue nation. While world opinion would not translate into any kind of overt action, it is clear that continued US “interventions” are dependent on soft support, at a minimum. Wave bye-bye to all that, particularly in Muslim countries.
Claim: Iraq will become a stable democracy.
What I wrote then: This point is the one that has been well-made by a number of folks, so I’ll go into it only briefly. Sixty percent of Iraq is comprised of Shi’ites who have never held power in the country. Kurds comprise another 19%, and have, of course, never held power. The ruling Baath Party represents a Sunni minority of just 17% of the population. Hussein’s regime gained and maintains control through intense violence, which has left the country seething. If the warlords of Afghanistan are proving more difficult to manage than the American military predicted, how will the US or even the UN manage a post-Hussein Iraq? It is guaranteed to be a mess.
In addition to refuting some of the more obvious claims, I added a few other comments, like what some unintended consequences might be. While I look fairly prescient now, it's hard to imagine that a whole raft of people didn't see this then. Of course, they did. They were ignored. Again, from Sept '02:
If the US invades Iraq—either with or without world support—there will arise situations we don’t currently envision. An example is Pooty-Poot and his delight over the Bush doctrine: if invading “terrorist” aggressors is both moral and sound geopolitics, this whole pre-emption deal might be just what the doctor ordered in Georgia. That is a known by-product, but many others will emerge. Obvious other issues, such as the place Baghdad holds in the Muslim world, the Israeli conflict, tensions in Saudi Arabia, the Musharraf government’s stability, effects on terrorist support—all these Bush has ignored.
Weighing the decision, I came to this conclusion, which is almost exactly how I would describe what has happened:
The invasion of Iraq would the most obvious abuse of democratic power in a newly-emerging global democracy. Furthermore, it would distract a nation from the sweeping power the President and his administration are seeking at home. Bush has already used circumstances to justify cynical political moves—after his abysmal tax cut passed and the economy started tanking, Bush bragged he’d hit the trifecta: war (Afghanistan), national emergency (terrorism) and recession bailed him out. The Administration’s desire to invade Iraq is no less cynical, and the upside is far, far greater. On balance, the reasons to invade Iraq are few and debatable, the gains small, and the cost huge; the reasons to refrain many and indisputable, the gains large, and the cost nothing. It’s not even close.
I'll leave it off there, though I find that the whole document makes pretty satisfying reading, should you care to spend fifteen minutes perusing it. But I will leave off with one more quote, which actually frames the coming election in pretty accurate terms. It's far more urgent now, and the choice between McCain and Clinton/Obama couldn't be starker.
Furthermore, this is an opportunity for the United States to take a genuine leadership role in crafting policy for dealing with international conflict. Paying lip service to democracy on the one hand while on the other supporting dictators and reserving the right to act unilaterally, undemocratically, and forcefully naturally lead to a less stabilized world. That the US has a huge advantage in the world right now makes it the natural leader. It has two choices—leading toward a system of international law or playing the old game of might is right. Whatever course we choose, the world will follow. Thus it is that following the UN’s lead in Iraq is absolutely critical to setting the tone in international politics.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Liar, Liar, Pants...

This is pretty devastating. It would be nice to hear the MSM hammer Hillary for ten days about whether this eliminates her from viability as they did following d'affair Wright. It's brutal:

Sunday, March 23, 2008

On Race and Power in America

Digby writes the most astute post I've seen in the aftermath of Obama's race speech. She gives voice to many of the themes I've seen crop up in conversations I've had since the speech--ones I frankly haven't had the courage to voice.
Perhaps I have a different sense about this than others, but I personally didn't find what he said to be all that shocking. Many of his comments on racial issues were as true as they were discomfiting and his views on American error weren't illogical or unprecedented. Like virtually everyone else, I understood immediately upon hearing them that they were going to be a political problem but on the substance (except for the HIV stuff, which is rank conspiracy theorizing) they weren't indefensible. Indeed, they speak to the essence of what separates us from the lockstep, chauvinistic , American exceptionalism of the right. No, we aren't "blame America first" fifth columnists. But neither are we "blame America never" which means that we have a much clearer eye about our government's sometimes irrational and immoral actions than conservatives do.
You should go read the whole, long thing. It's worth the nine minutes. She essentially fleshes out the "more perfect union" idea Obama introduced, spicing it with unflinching liberalism he can't touch. She spoke some truths that, for the sake of political viability, no Democratic politician can ever make, like this:
The subjects of race and religion make people uncomfortable and challenge their own view of themselves creating all kinds of emotional dissonance. We saw that with Katrina, when even the most committed liberals didn't want to admit that race played a part in the response to the tragedy or the conditions that led to it. Time and again I was challenged on the subject by those who insisted it wasn't about race, it was about class, and by discussing it racial terms I was perpetuating the myth. I disagree. It is no myth. Progress has been made, but as I wrote at the time, the single most powerful lingering vestige of racism is an irrational fear of an angry black mob --- led by an angry black man. That informs the perpetual fear among whites that Obama mentions in his speech and that's the political minefield Obama and Reverend Wright walked into when those tapes surfaced.
and this:
And sadly, those who do that fighting are often considered to be "unamerican" and "unpatriotic" because by demanding that America change, they are making a case that America is not perfect. For the chauvinist, nationalist, exceptionalist right, (and the mindbogglingly provincial thinkers in the village) that is something you are not allowed to admit.
(Imagine a graceful segue here as I move on to a thought I've been mulling.) In an email discussion I had with a black woman over the Obama speech, we discussed what people say behind closed doors. What has mainly said among the non-blacks I know as a result of this speech is pretty much what Digby wrote in her post. But here's a key point: the people I know are statistical outliers. They're pacificists and Buddhists and vegetarians. They don't understand why Kucinich isn't mainstream.

And this is the point: there are many conversations among whites behind closed doors. Whites are not a demographic--especially in a country where they comprise 80% of the population. Some of them, like this guy who's making waves today, have evolved past eighteenth-century racism to mid-20th century racism. (Call it Dixiecrat racism: it's okay that whites don't own blacks, but for God's sake, don't let them use our toilets.) Others are outright racists. Others are not racist, but know that they can't comprehend what it looks like to live black in America and would rather not try. Others, like Obama pointed out, already feel kicked around and feel that it sucks that their status is not privileged, as they think blacks are. (A mindbender to be sure, but there you have it.)

If the speech did anything, it allowed us to start talking. Digby notes that it's going to be a hard road a'hoe for Obama to get elected in a country that has such a charged relationship to race. It's going to be tough, but whoever thought it wouldn't be? Progress is tough. Well, anyway.

Happy Easter, all--

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Obama and Hillary: Tied Nationally

I just heard a reporter on the local news report a tracking poll that had one of the candidates out by two points. It was apparently not the Gallup, which has Obama ahead by 3 today. What struck me was that she reported it like it was a basketball score or high weather temperature--an actual data point. Of course, two points means it's in the margin of error. And any tracking poll will vary day-to-day in any case. So far from it meaning that a candidate was actually leading by two (I don't even remember which was supposed to be leading), the real value of the tracking point is to say they're tied.

Don't believe me? Gallup's tracking poll goes back 17 days. If you do a trend of those 17 days, Obama stands .1% in front of Hillary, 46.3% to 46.2%.

An absolute dead heat.

Reporters should be required to learn what poll numbers mean before they're allowed to report on them. Of course, their ignorance is probably better for business, so I doubt we'll see anything like that anytime soon. Especially in a burg like Portland, Oregon.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Richardson for Obama

Just minutes ago Bill Richardson endorsed Obama, who is now speaking to the crowd. By chance, it's in Portland and on local TV. I'm watching it live.

Very Cool!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Five Years Today

4,000 dead Americans. 100,00+ dead Iraqis. Two trillion in direct and indirect costs. Civil war raging. Al Qaida rallying. Pakistan destabilized. Afghanistan forgotten. Every reasonable justification for the war refuted. Republicans set for 100 more years.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Annotating Clinton Spin

This is funny. The Obama team annotates a Hillary memo--amusingly.

From: Bill Burton
Sent: Wed 3/12/2008 6:36 PM
To: Bill Burton
Subject: FW: The Clinton Memo... as annotated by the Obama communicationsdepartment

To: Interested Parties
From: Clinton Campaign
Date: Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Re: Keystone Test: Obama Losing Ground [Get ready for a good one.]

The path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue goes through Pennsylvania so if Barack Obama can't win there, how will he win the general election?

[Answer: I suppose by holding obviously Democratic states like California and New York, and beating McCain in swing states like Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Virginia and Wisconsin where Clinton lost to Obama by mostly crushing margins. But good question.]
After setbacks in Ohio and Texas, Barack Obama needs to demonstrate that he can win the state of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is the last state with more than 15 electoral votes on the primary calendar and Barack Obama has lost six of the seven other largest states so far - every state except his home state of Illinois.
[If you define "setback" as netting enough delegates out of our 20-plus-point wins in Mississippi and Wyoming to completely erase any delegate advantage the Clinton campaign earned out of March 4th, then yeah, we feel pretty setback.]
Pennsylvania is of particular importance, along with Ohio, Florida and Michigan, because it is dominated by the swing voters who are critical to a Democratic victory in November. No Democrat has won the presidency without winning Pennsylvania since 1948. And no candidate has won the Democratic nomination without winning Pennsylvania since 1972.
[What the Clinton campaign secretly means: PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE FACT THAT WE'VE LOST 14 OF THE LAST 17 CONTESTS AND SAID THAT MICHIGAN AND FLORIDA WOULDN'T COUNT FOR ANYTHING. Also, we're still trying to wrap our minds around the amazing coincidence that the only "important" states in the nominating process are the ones that Clinton won.]
But the Obama campaign has just announced that it is turning its attention away from Pennsylvania.
This is not a strategy that can beat John McCain in November.
[I don't think Clinton's strategy of losing in state after state after promising more of the same politics is working all that well either.]
In the last two weeks, Barack Obama has lost ground among men, women, Democrats, independents and Republicans - all of which point to a candidacy past its prime.
["A candidacy past its prime." These guys kill me.]
For example, just a few weeks ago, Barack Obama won 68% of men in Virginia, 67% in Wisconsin and 62% in Maryland. He won 60% of Virginia women and 55% of Maryland women. He won 62% of independents in Maryland, 64% in Wisconsin and 69% in Virginia. Obama won 59% of Democrats in Maryland, 53% in Wisconsin and 62% in Virginia. And among Republicans, Obama won 72% in both Virginia and Wisconsin.

But now Obama's support has dropped among all these groups.
[That's true, if you don't count all the winning we've been up to. As it turns out, it's difficult to maintain 40-point demographic advantages, even over Clinton]
In Mississippi, he won only 25% of Republicans and barely half of independents. In Ohio, he won only 48% of men, 41% of women and 42% of Democrats. In Texas, he won only 49% of independents and 46% of Democrats. And in Rhode Island, Obama won just 33% of women and 37% of Democrats.
[I'm sympathetic to their attempt to parse crushing defeats. And I'm sure Rush Limbaugh's full-throated endorsement of Clinton didn't make any difference. Right]
Why are so many voters turning away from Barack Obama in state after state?
[You mean besides the fact that we're ahead in votes, states won and delegates?]
In the last few weeks, questions have arisen about Obama's readiness to be president. In Virginia, 56% of Democratic primary voters said Obama was most qualified to be commander-in-chief. That number fell to 37% in Ohio, 35% in Rhode Island and 39% in Texas.
[Only the Clinton campaign could cherry pick states like this. But in contrast to their logic, in the most recent contest of Mississippi, voters said that Obama was more qualified to be commander in chief than Clinton by a margin of 55-42.]
So the late deciders - those making up their minds in the last days before the election - have been shifting to Hillary Clinton. Among those who made their decision in the last three days, Obama won 55% in Virginia and 53% in Wisconsin, but only 43% in Mississippi, 40% in Ohio, 39% in Texas and 37% in Rhode Island.
[If only there were enough late deciders for the Clinton campaign to actually be ahead, they would really be on to something.]
If Barack Obama cannot reverse his downward spiral with a big win in Pennsylvania, he cannot possibly be competitive against John McCain in November.
[If they are defining downward spiral as a series of events in which the Clinton campaign has lost more votes, lost more contests and lost more delegates to us - I guess we will have to suffer this horribly painful slide all the way to the nomination and then on to the White House.]

[Thanks for the laughs guys. This was great.]

Incidentally, I'm out of town for the next five days, so no posting. Not that you'd notice.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mississippi Exits

Briefly: if you are a black Mississippian, you voted Obama, if white, Hillary. Obama won 91% of blacks, Hillary 74% of whites. That's unsettling.

But here's an interesting stat. Republicans made up 11% of the vote, and Hillary won 85% of them. Limbaugh? Maybe so: Independents split roughly evenly.

Another interesting stat. CNN asked voters of both candidates whether they had a positive or negative opinion of John McCain. Counter-intuitively, Obama voters were more unfavorable (71%) than Clinton voters (29%)--but maybe that's just because Obama voters are Southern blacks who strongly mistrust the GOP.

Further fraying is evidenced in this finding. 74% of Clinton voters find Obama untrustworthy, and 92% of Clinton voters find Obama untrustworthy. The kitchen sink strategy has born toxic results!

Weirdly, only 58% of Clinton voters would be "satisfied" if she won the nomination. (Danger!) 84% of Obama's voters would be satisfied if he won.

No results in, everyone's calling it for Obama.

Full exits here and here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The "Biggest States" Argument

If Obama beats Hillary in pledged delegates (as he surely will), wins the most states (he has 24 plus DC already), and has received the most votes overall (likely), the Clinton campaign will deploy the last missile it has: "yeah, but we won the big states." While this is technically true, the argument isn't perfectly bulletproof. Here are the largest fifteen states, and the candidate who won them.
  1. California [C]
  2. New York [C]
  3. Texas [C]
  4. Pennsylvania [likely C]
  5. Illinois [O]
  6. Ohio [C]
  7. North Carolina [likely O]
  8. New Jersey [C]
  9. Massachusetts [C]
  10. Georgia [O]
  11. Virginia [O]
  12. Washington [O]
  13. Wisconsin [O]
  14. Minnesota [O]
  15. Missouri [O]
In Hillary's favor: she will have won four of the five non-home states in the union, and six of ten. Include home states, and she won four of the five largest, and seven of the top ten. But if you look at states 11-15, Obama ran the tables. So of the top 15 largest states, Obama won eight if you include home states, seven if you don't -- a majority in each case.

Obviously, Hillary will make the argument that the big states should be limited to the top nine (I doubt she'd include Georgia), but there's a slippery slope--she doesn't want to risk denigrating those 11-15 states, at least four of which will be in play in November.

Spitzer's Fall

Holy crap. What to say about this?
ALBANY - Gov. Eliot Spitzer has been caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet with a high-priced prostitute at a Washington hotel last month, according to a person briefed on the federal investigation.

An affidavit in the federal investigation into a prostitution ring said that a wiretap recording captured a man identified as Client 9 on a telephone call confirming plans to have a woman travel from New York to Washington, where he had reserved a hotel room. The person briefed on the case identified Mr. Spitzer as Client 9.
Spitzer's statement.
[inaudible] … politics that would rebuild New York and create opportunity for all. We vowed to bring real change to New York and that will continue. Today, I want to briefly address a private matter. I have acted in a way that violated the obligations to my family and that violates my — or any — sense of right and wrong. I apologize first, and most importantly, to my family. I apologize to the public, whom I promised better. I do not believe that politics in the long run is about individuals. It is about ideas, the public good and doing what is best for the State of New York. But I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard that I expect of myself. I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family. I will not be taking questions. Thank you very much. I will report back to you in short order. Thank you very much.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

More Numbers on Clinton/Obama

Just a late-night numbers count, spurred by some of the thinking out there in the internets following Obama's fine win in Wyoming. There are 4049 total delegates, 795 of which are supers. That leaves 3254 pledged delegates. To get a majority of pledged delegates, a candidate would need 1628. Obama currently has around 1380, Clinton 1230. That means Obama's 248 from a majority of pledged delegates, while Clinton is 398 away.

Put that way, things look brighter for Team Obama.


Friday, March 07, 2008

Memoir of a Half-Life

According to actuarial tables, the average American can expect to live to 78 (45th in the world, in front of Denmark and Ireland, but behind Bosnia and Puerto Rico). If you figure in that I'm healthier, skinnier, and eat better than the average American, I can probably expect to live a little longer, barring violent interactions with busses, black widows, icy sidewalks, and hantavirus. (Here's a couple of calculators to see where you fit in: one, two.) For the sake of argument, let's say I have an expiration date of about 80 years. The upshot is that since passing my 40th birthday in January, I embark on the second half of life.

I'm going to try something experimental here in my dark little corner of the internet. I've begun a brief little memoir looking back on those forty years. About once a week, I'll post a chapter, and link it at the side so it's easy to follow through if you miss a bit coming in late. I don't really know where it's headed, but since I'm only going to pass the halfway mark once I thought I'd take advantage and make a few notes. What the hell--that's what blogs are for, right?

The Introduction begins here.

Memoir of a Half-Life: Introduction

When we are small children, there is very little we actually know. Most of the world exists in the realm of the possible. We know that people make sense of the curled scratches written on pages. They know how to make sense of clock faces, the pattern in which to tangle their shoelaces. They know how to drive and how to procure cars. Sometimes we are baffled that they seem to know more about unimportant things (accounting) yet have forgotten critical stuff, like which dinosaurs are the most bad-ass. For children that which can be imagined is very little different from that which is known. Once they get the hang of it, children realize that they may learn to fly, grow up to be a dog, visit Mars, or (they worry) master accounting. In the childish mind, it’s all the same.

(When I was about five, I was going to grow up to be Franco Harris. Literally—not so much a pro football player, but Pittsburgh Steeler running back Franco Harris.)

Our childhood sense of anticipation shifts a bit as we ripen into adolescence—some of the fantasies have run aground on the hard rocks of childhood cruelty and loss. (Who hasn’t experienced the brutal homicide of Santa by the time they’re ten?) But into this burgeoning sense of tangible reality, we begin to associate some of our more likely dreams with our identity. The punky music kids see themselves as outre; the smart kids begin to imagine lives of success and praise.

One of my friends, who taught both middle school and grade school in hardscrabble, working-class neighborhoods, said he preferred the younger kids because none of them yet knew they were doomed. He knew this because he once asked his older kids to raise their hands if they planned to go to college. A hand or two. But the younger kids, equally as disadvantaged, who would in a few years time see their sunny horizons darken, all raised their hands.

College becomes a costume shop of identity. We get a degree at the end; while it should be considered provisional at best, a souvenir photo of us dressed up in the garb of our imagined future identity, instead we relate to it all the more firmly. We exit in a dreamworld not a lot more sophisticated than the one we created at 15. I don’t doubt there are variations, but American culture nurtures from a young age the identification with work as self. Other measures of selfhood—happiness, family connections—are emphasized less in America than most cultures. We are what we do and, by extention, accomplish.


When I was about twenty years old, I had a distinct sense of being exactly at the fissure between childhood and adulthood. A part of me had reached its full potential and was about to change irrevocably, but in that moment, I could regard it, like a perfect bloom of childhood, as if fixed. For that fleeting moment in life, I could imagine disappearing into either world—the carelessness of youth, or the responsibility of maturity. I spent a week or two enjoying the sensation, which carried with it the luxury of fantasy as I tried on adulthood without worrying about the drudgery that actually accompanies it.

What I was not able to witness were the imminent changes to the dreamworld with which I had been busy populating my future selves. Dreams flourish in the absence of information and youth is uniquely unaware of adulthood’s realities. Our world is tabula rasa, but the moment we take the first step toward one of our future selves, countless others grow dimmer. We don’t perceive the gravity of our trajectory, experiencing only the sense of open horizons; we charge off, fearlessly, failing to recognize the deaths of all the potential selves we abandon in our enthusiasm to get started.

Another twenty years has passed, and another interstitial moment arrives. The dreamworld of youth is disappearing irrevocably. I have been wearing several layers of psychic clothing that appear increasingly insubstantial. The act of dreaming that has governed much of my mind for 40 years is fading. Dreams are dying—some because I can’t accomplish them (Franco Harris), some because I already have.

It turns out the act of dreaming has been a mistaken endeavor from the outset.

The childlike understanding of possibilities at some point gave way to the identification with the dream. One goes from a verb to a noun. I have cultivated dreams not only because they form a structure for my life to follow, but because they have helped create my self-image. But of course, self-images require at least the appearance of external support. The older we get, the harder it is to find any meaning in the labels we give ourselves—anyway, I do. I can call myself a writer or not, a Buddhist or not, a researcher or not. After a time, it has become clear that all of these dreamy self-images depend on some external umpire to make the call. At 40, I find it extremely difficult to continue to believe in this umpire. This is why the accomplishment of dreams always results in a sense of dissipation—I was not involved in the dream for the satisfaction of accomplishment, but the result I thougth it would afford. I saw my name published and … nothing. I wrote a novel. So what? So, I have spent a life coveting, but the wrong thing.

At forty, I’m having a simultaneously destabilizing epiphany: on the one hand, I’m deflated to realize that the benchmarks against which I have secretly been measuring myself don’t exist; on the other hand, I’m left with a sensation of being rudderless. My dreams were foolish, but at least they gave me direction.


This 40-year-old vertigo can't be unusual. One of its causes is the failure to look back at the path and see where I've come from. The experience of forty years doesn't feel like much, but sifting through the actual years, and it stretches pretty far back into prehistory. There are wonderful treasures there to be revealed, if only to myself. Look, there's Fryer's Quality Pies, that dive on 23rd filled with blue smoke, punky kids staying warm on a single 50-cent coffee, and neighborhood elders, some of whom were born in the previous century. There's a funny old woman standing in the living room talking about "peaching" President Nixon. There's a couple of tow-headed kids riding in the back of a pick-up truck driven by a man drinking beer.

What does it say to have been born in America in 1968? What do my experiences say about the larger world? How has the larger world created the person who now sits typing these words? How does one get born into a hunting, fishing, working-class Christian family in suburban Boise, Idaho and end up a liberal, Buddhist, pacifist in urban Portland? Memoirs, to the extent they have value, bring the personal and the epochal together. Over the next weeks and months, I'll try to do just that--bringing answers to these questions together with the larger context of time, place, and events that we all share.

Next post: 1968, Part 1

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Rove's Right

It's hard to come to terms with that comment, but this is right on:
Remember: It has only been eight weeks since Iowans voted in the first contest of the season, though it seems like a geological age has passed. There are now seven weeks until Pennsylvania, nine weeks until North Carolina and Indiana, and 10 weeks until West Virginia. Imagine how many twists and turns are possible.
Of course, when Karl Rove says "twists and turns," I get a little nervous.

The Long Campaign: Good or Bad?

Since Hillary rallied on Tuesday, "punching her ticket to keep on fighting" (can we retire that cliche now, please?), a debate has ensued: is this good for the Dems or bad?

Instinctively it seems bad, because Hillary's going negative and can only tear Obama down. If she does happen to win the nomination, she'll lose a lot of Obama voters along the way thanks to the tactics she'll have to use to get there. A lose-lose. Meanwhile, McCain just chills, firing a scud at the Dems every now and again while cozying up to Hagee, Rush, and the rest of the Fox 'n Friends nuthouse, hoarding his pocket change as Hillary and Obama deplete their massive warchests on each other.

But Kevin Drum says hogwash and cites 1968 as an example. Even in that most divisive of years, when the liberal coalition was busy eating itself, Humphrey lost by less than one percentage point.
If long, bitter, primary campaigns really destroy parties, then Humphrey should have lost the 1968 election by about 50 points. "Bitter" isn't even within an order of magnitude of describing what happened that year. And yet, even against that blood-soaked background, Humphrey barely lost. This suggests that if primary divisiveness has any effect at all, it must be pretty small.
He reprises the theme later, linking to political scientist Phil Klinkner and John Sides, who bolster the claim (even citing a study that finds no link between divisiveness and outcome between 1936-96).

And then there's the argument that it's actually better for the Dems to continue to battle, because in doing so, they suck all the oxygen out of the room. If the media's covering the latest scrum between Wolfson and Axelrod, they're not listening to McCain drone on about the "respectful" campaign he plans to run.

On the other hand, I have to think that the nature of a divisive primary battle in the mediascape we have in 2008 differs dramatically from 1960's. Drum's analysis selected an election in which the Dems were the incumbent and had vast institutional advantages--not exactly a mirror of this year's. In 1960, we had a presidential candidate who was hiding affairs and health problems; in 2008, we have candidates who must, thanks to pinheads like Drudge, respond to crimes they did not commit. Every election is a one-off. Events and contexts change enough that it's difficult to look at the historical record for a roadmap into the future.

I don't actually know. One factor that I think hasn't been explored too much is the flipside to the"at least McCain's getting no press" argument: true, and that's probably bad. He's cranky and has a lot of skeletons in his closet. There's a good reason to think that forcing him to endure months scrutiny will exacerbate his huge downsides, force him to take positions that will inevitably alienate members of the conservative coalition, put him in a crucible that will expose his crankiness, and give the press time to dig into his dubious past.

Who knows? Since we can't run a control experiment with Obama winning Texas and forcing Hillary out, we'll never know. But it's an interesting riddle, even if we can't know the answer.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

March 4 Aftermath

The results were pretty much what I expected (but hoped against). Obama got one win outright and probably swung the Texas two-step, but got beat soundly in Ohio and RI:

State_________ Clinton (Del)______Obama (Del)
_____________54% (73)_________ 44% (62)
Texas Primary
____51% (16)_________ 48% (10)
Texas Caucus
_____48% (XX)_________ 52% (XX) - 36% reporting
__________39% (6)__________ 59% (9)
Rhode Island
_____58% (13)_________ 40% (8)
The Times has her leading 115-88 delegates, which is far fewer than the full allotment (that'll take some time). Obama may make back some of the distance when they get in the caucus results. The net effect is something on the order of fewer than a 20-delegate gain by Hillary, possibly as low as ten, according to the various media folk who believe they know.

The math is pretty clear--Hillary's chance of securing the nomination went down after last night. In order to stay on pace, she needed to net 52 delegates. And recall that this is her firewall. Still, it's going to be a nice news cycle or two for her. Obama's probably going to let her have her day in the sun; he's classy that way.

And so the wheel turns...

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Oh No...

This is when my fears become founded.

Don't Mess With Texas

CNN is reporting Obama ahead 438k to 305k in Texas ... with 1% reporting.

Turnout is apparently bigger than anyone expected.

Ohio Exits Interesting

Hmmm, what do you think this means? Obama wins every region in Ohio except NE, where Hillary won decisively.
Region (% of tot.)______ Clinton________Obama
Cuyahoga County (15%)
______41%__________ 59%
Northeastern Ohio (35%)
____61% __________39%
Central Ohio (21%)
_________48% __________51%
Northwestern Ohio (11%)
____44% __________55%
Southwestern Ohio (18%)
____49% __________51%

However, Hillary's winning everything else. Of particular interest for those who read tea leaves. People who decided in the last three days voted for Clinton 59% to 41%. Why? Playing the victim card seems to have worked. Despite deploying the slime machine, only 62% of Obama voters thought Clinton attacked unfairly. But among Clinton voters, 71% thought Obama had attacked unfairly.

The age split is also predictable, if stark. Hillary won everyone over 50, Obama everyone below. Clinton's population was smaller (45%), but her margins were bigger. So, just in case you're hoping for an upset, doesn't look like it's gonna happen.

More Math

This is a great post. Jonathan Chait points out that Hillary needs to win 57% of the remaining pledged delegates to tie Obama (Slate puts it at 58%). That means to stay on pace, she needs to emerge with a margin of 52 delegates from tonight's primaries. If she doesn't do that, she falls further behind and then will need to make up an even greater percentage in following primaries.

(And it seems highly unlikely--even to a pessimist like me--that she'll get that many. That would require 15-point margins across the board in TX, OH, and RI.)

Doesn't mean she doesn't continue to drag things out indefinitely, though...

Winners and Losers

Good old David Brooks has another column in which he speaks from the point of view of the common voter, but this time, he's switching gears:
For young people who have grown up on Facebook, YouTube, open-source software and an array of decentralized networks, this is a compelling theory of how change happens....

But Obama sounded like a cross between a social activist and a flannel-shirted software C.E.O. — as a nonhierarchical, collaborative leader who can inspire autonomous individuals to cooperate for the sake of common concerns.
Brooks has risen to prominence by virtue of a single rhetorical point: in a world of elite opinion, he alone has access to the common man, and it is he who will interpret their homespun wisdom into words the degenerate chattering class can understand. For years, he's been able to use it to tweak liberals who put faith into things like fact and reality and research and science. These elitist views didn't appeal to Main Street Americans, who saw through the narrow lens of their own self-interest and into the larger wisdom of (insert catastrophically bad GOP policy here).

But now that the folk seem to be turning from the GOP, his schtick is in jeopardy. Either he continues to play the only tune he knows and follows the people wherever their wisdom leads--even to Barack Hussein Obama--or he serves the Republican Party. This is a tough one to swallow. For the moment, he can praise Obama because the subject of his derision is Hillary Clinton. But what happens if the Dem wins in November?

You can see the toll it's taken on him. In media appearances, he's constantly bitchy. He doesn't like to talk about anything--vascillating between tetchy defenses of Bush and gushing praise of Obama--because it all exposes the coming fault.

Political realignments precipitate a reckoning. There emerge winners and losers. For those who hold tenaciously to the ideas of the vanquished, there is little not to be bitchy about.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Predictions: Hillary in Ohio, RI, and Texas

Everyone's looking at the polls, and the general consensus is a split: Obama takes Vermont and Texas, and Hillary gets Ohio and Rhode Island. (Further predictions cluster around the belief that such a result would encourage her to continue the quest.) The polls still give Obama the lead in Texas, and he was leading more substantially when the early voting started, so he'll hold on for the win, so the consensus goes. But there are two reasons to suggest it won't go that way: 1) the electorate is so volatile that the polls have been wrong by wide margins since Iowa, and 2) the polls chart trends that are several days out of date.

So instead of looking at the aggregate of polls, let's look at the trend within polls. It is a less hopeful picture. Below are several tracking polls and what they've been tracking. (The referent in each case is Obama, and the poll window is Feb 16 to March 2.)
Rassmussen: -3, -1, +4, +1
InsiderAdvantage: +1, -4, -5
ARG: +8, +7, 0
Survey USA: -5, +4, +1
See the pattern? Obama was behind, rallied to take the lead, and has seen his lead vanish over the past few days. If you include polling done only in the past four days, Obama is trailing slightly. Given that the polling actually reflects opinion a few days ago, this is not good news.

There are a number of reasons why this is bad. It's bad because the way she's done it is to go negative. She's had a twin attack: denigrate his experience in cartoonish terms ("I have a lifetime of experience I would bring to the White House, I know that Senator McCain has experience he will bring to the White House, and Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002"), and smear him with scandal (Canada-gate and Rezko). She has very little chance to win the nomination on points--even winning the three states I expect her to tomorrow will give her a marginal return and leave her 140 pledged delegates behind--but she can do a lot of the GOP's dirty work.

The second problem with this outcome is that it will prolong the Democratic race into a death spiral, as an ever-more-desparate Hillary (no model of grace under pressure) gets ever more negative. Her only bet is to absolutely decimate the energy surrounding Obama and actually come close to him in pledged delegates (if she can get within 50 after 3200+ had been cast), she'll be in a position to argue to Superdelegates that it's a tie. And to win them over, she'll have to further stain him.

All of that results in a Democratic electorate who sits out '08. In numbers great enough to throw the election? Well, that's a prediction for later...

Hillary Rising

All the news points to a Clinton rally: she's beaten back the attack in Ohio (Obama's staying in Texas through tomorrow), and has regained mo in Texas. There's Canuck-gate and Rezko-gate and the 3am phone call and the dueling tweed jackets. Advantage Clinton down the line. Oh, and then there's this: Ohio Republicans are rallying to Clinton because they don't want to face Obama, says an unnamed reader of a blog.

But hey, Obama appears to be closing in Rhode Island.

As always, I'm feeling grim about things. Unexpectedly, I'm not alone. Hillary ain't done yet. If this post works, you'll see that I've got a poll up. This is an amusing feature, given that the reader can be of only so many minds. But let's see what s/he thinks (full discloser, she: hi mom!), anyway.