Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Obama's "Al Gore" Moment

The Florida Ballot Project showed that if Al Gore had called for all the votes to be counted in Florida, he would have won. But instead he listened to his lawyers and only called for a limited recount of ballots in four counties. He missed his chance to take a strong moral stand. And it turns out that the shifts in those counties would not have been enough to make a difference anyway, even had the Supreme Court not intervened.

Obama now faces his own "Al Gore" moment. He can take a strong moral stand and ask for do-overs in Michigan and Florida, on the principle that everyone's vote should count. His own campaign argues that it is almost impossible for him to lose the pledged delegate count, mathematically speaking, even with MI and FL as-is. This would give Obama the moral high ground. And it would also give incredible strength to his argument that the winner of the pledged delegates should win the nomination. If he is bold and statesmanlike, he can sacrifice apparent immediate advantage to win the whole game.

This is his moment.


The Law Talking Guy said...

Clinton also has an "Al Gore" moment here. She can acknowledge a willingness to abide by the results of the process, or try to overturn the process. It is her job to say that she will accept the results of the DNC process.

Will she also urge superdelegates not to act as the Supreme Court did in 2000, giving the election to their favorite?

Dr. Strangelove said...

Have either Hillary or Obama ever said anything about disobeying the DNC rules? Neither have threatened to pull a Lieberman if they do not get the nomination. Both have agreed to abide by the process. Both have said so repeatedly.

Incidentally, we should remember that "the process" as written allows superdelegates to vote as they please. In fact, I am sure you remember that superdelegates they were established precisely as a counterweight to the primary/caucus process. In point of fact, the only one trying to circumvent the process is Obama, who is trying to pressure the superdelegates into abdicating their role in the process. He is tacitly threatening to declare the whole process illegitimate if they don't.

That being said, I actually happen to agree with Obama on this one. Just as I think the rules regarding MI and FL are unfair and must be changed, for the good of the party, so I have also said that the superdelegates must not overturn the will of the people as expressed via the pledged delegates. Unless the pledged delegate count is effectively a tie, it would be catastrophic for the superdelegates to throw the election to anyone.

And by the way, if you think a do-over in MI and FL would lead to a narrower difference between Clinton and Obama than the current tallies in those two states (and most of us believe that would be the case) then Obama really should join Hillary and call for do-overs. Because as it stands, if at the end of the day Obama leads by less than 56 pledged delegates, Hillary will claim the pledged delegate count is inconclusive. And many will agree.

USWest said...

I am still back on why other states were allowed to change their primary dates and FL and MI weren't. I have been sort of disinterested in this mess so I haven't been following it closely. But then I heard an interview on NPR last week with Obama and was so disgusted, I suddenly got interested again.

When asked to describe a time as Senator that he had to show serious judgment, the only time he could lean on was his vote against the war. Come on, Obama, you can do better than that. Give it up already. Give us something else.
When asked to describe a time in the Senate other than the war vote, that he had to really grapple with a tough decision, Obama stuttered around for a while, tried to avoid the question, and then came up with having to vote on the war funding bill.

Well, he could have pointed to the dilemma posed by MU and FL. When asked about that, he tried to avoid the question by simply saying, well rules are rules.

Here's the thing. Hilliary is correct when she points out that if you alienate these voters now, you may have a hard time keeping them with you in the general election. If their own party shuns them now, why shouldn't they vote for someone else.

Sorry. I don't agree with Obama on this one. Voters are voters. Their votes need to matter one way or the other. I don't like gumming up matters of principle with details about process and bureaucracy. To me, then principle of someone's right to vote trumps that of following party rules.

Anonymous said...

one correction to your history--Gore could not have called for a statewide manual recount in Florida because that would have required the approval of Bush as well as Gore.

Lacking that, he had to do it county by county.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I had not heard that about Gore being unable to call for a statewide recount. He could have "called" for one in the larger sense of press conferences and speeches, of course... but you are saying legally that option was not available? Interesting. I did not know that.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Yes, Dr.S., Clinton has called for not obeying the DNC rules. She has called for the delegates to be seated anyway(!), or for a do-over. She has absolutely urged that the agreed-upon rules (rules she agreed to clearly) be changed in her favor now that she is losing.

USWEst- I wonder if the voters in MI and FL feel alienated by the presidential campaigns, by the national democratic party, or by their own state parties who defied the DNC rules for petty reasons with the predictable result that their votes would not count. I suspect, strongly, that among those who think about it, they blame their own local officials for screwing it up. I know that if CA had moved its primary date to, I dunno, December '07, and been sanctioned for it by the DNC, I would be feeling annoyed at my local Democratic party, not either Clinton or Obama.

Raised By Republicans said...

The schedule wasn't set by the states. It was set by the Democratic Party. The Democratic party set this schedule following recommendations from a committee set up by a Bill Clinton appointee (and current Hillary Clinton campaign big wig) Terry McAuliffe.

The schedule was front loaded with states that they thought would favor an early favorite with lots of money and big time name recognition (that's why New York, California, and Illinois were on Super Tuesday - which itself was moved up). The conventional wisdom at the time this schedule was set up was that Hillary was way ahead and would likely clean up on Super Tuesday.

When MI and FL said they would disobey the DNC and schedule their primaries before Super Tuesday, the DNC moved to punish them, asking the candidates to take their names off the ballots. In Michigan everyone but Hillary did just that. In Florida, a state law prevented candidates from doing that without withdrawing their candidacy nationally. The DNC asked the candidates to punish the MI and FL Democratic parties and all of them cooperated, except Hillary.

I can guarantee you that if Hillary had won Iowa instead of coming in third, she would NOT have done that.

As for Obama's experience and judgment. He was the first candidate to unambiguously reject torture. Hillary was (usually) saying she was against it when pressed but had Bill running around saying it was "OK under some circumstances." Edwards was trying to figure out how to relate torture to his retread version of the New Deal. For me that is what cinched it.

Raised By Republicans said...

I'll suggest that another instance of Obama's judgement is his strategy to contest every state, not just the ones where he feels he has a built-in advantage.

Giuliani is the extreme example of the opposite strategy. Hillary has adopted a less extreme version.

I strongly believe that a 50 state strategy is the way to go in 2008 - whoever the nominee is. Obama's campaign is set up to do that. Hillary's could be but isn't right now.

Another indication...Hillary's people really dropped the ball in Texas. By not having their people in Texas fully briefed on how the system worked, she ended up winning the primary but losing the delegate count - just like in Nevada. In New Hampshire, she won the primary and only tied the delegate count for a similar reason. Her people focussed their efforts in suboptimal distributions that limited their delegate advantage in the event of a win.

What I take from this is that Obama and his team are better at understanding the consequences of political institutions. That's a HUGE advantage in a campaign and in dealing with other countries.

Anyone who has ever played Monopoly, Risk or something against the kind of person who memorizes the rules - then brings out some obscure rule at a critical moment to win the game - knows what I'm talking about.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Hillary has not called for anyone to disobey the DNC rules. She has called on the DNC to change their own rules. That is not just a semantic difference. She wants the rules committee to meet again and overrule their previous decision. She is not urging the would-be MI and FL delegates to burst into the convention and camp out on the floor. It is disingenuous of you to ignore that distinction.

RbR: the DNC did not ask candidates to pull their names from the ballots in Michigan and Florida. Withdrawing their names was not part of the pledge the candidates made not to campaign there. Even an Obama spokesman explained the voluntary withdrawal by saying, "This is an extension of the pledge we made, based on the rules that the DNC laid out." (The quote is in the lower part of this article.)

Obama has run a brilliant campaign. I have said so before and don't mind repeating it. I would prefer to attribute Obama's success (we think) in Texas' caucus as a result of his superior effort to win the caucus. You can argue Hillary dropped the ball, but for her candidacy to continue, she absolutely had to win the primary, and she knew it. So she poured all of her resources into winning the primary, even if that meant less effort went into winning the caucus.

If Obama wins the nomination--which appears likely at this point--I hope very much that his expertise at gaming the Democratic caucus processes maps over to the general election.

Raised By Republicans said...

How is asking to change the rules mid-game substantively different from seeking to break the rules?

"This is an extension of the pledge we made, based on the rules that the DNC laid out."

Who is "we?" That is a reference to the pledge that Obama, and the other candidates (including Clinton) made. A pledge she is backing away from now that it is clear that she can't possibly win without the delegates from Michigan and Florida.

Dr. Strangelove said...

"How is asking to change the rules mid-game substantively different from seeking to break the rules?"

If you honestly see no difference, there is no point in continuing this discussion.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I don't get it. Nobody ever suggested, at any time, that MI and FL delegates would just womp onto the floor and stage some sort of protest, trying to shout out votes or something. Is that what Dr.S. thought someone was suggesting?

The question was always whether Clinton would bring enormous pressure to change the rules in order to favor her campaign. We're all agreed that she wants to do that, and that she is currently trying to do that. We're also agreed that she's the insider candidate whose supporters are stacked on all the relevant DNC committees, so she has the possibility of pulling that off (Obama, by contrast, can't reasonably try to get the DNC to abolish superdelegates between now and the convention). That's where Bush v. Gore is relevant- do you try to have the Supreme Court or the DNC Rules Committee steal the election or not?

Dr. Strangelove said...

LTG, you wrote of Hillary, "It is her job to say that she will accept the results of the DNC process."

I replied that Hillary had indeed said she would abide by the rules and would not disobey them. I said she would not "pull a Lieberman."

In response, LTG, you wrote, "Yes, Dr. S., Clinton has called for not obeying the DNC rules. She has called for the delegates to be seated anyway(!)"

Because you amplified your response to indicate you really meant what you said--that Hillary was calling for people to disobey the rules--I assumed you must be talking about calling on the delegates to be seated in violation of the rules, as part of some civil disobedience like the Mississippi Freedom party you talked about once. So to answer your first paragraph... Yes, I did think that was what you were talking about. I thought actually you had taken pains to be clear that you truly meant "disobedience." I see now that I was wrong. I am sorry.

Apparently the problem has arisen because, to me, disobeying the rules means what I described above, whereas trying to get the rules changed is still very much working within the established system. To you and RbR, there is no difference. To you both, asking for the rules to be changed is tantamount to breaking the rules.

RbR says that "substantively" there is no difference. I think there is some difference, but I am not going to argue that point. There is, however, a moral difference between (a) saying Hillary is trying to get the rules changed, and (b) saying Hillary is breaking or disobeying the rules, and I wish you would acknowledge that.

To me Bush v. Gore was about the right to have one's vote count. This cuts two ways here. (1) It means that if the superdelegates overrule the pledged delegates, they have disenfranchised the voters who elected them. (2) It also means that if the Democratic party cannot find some way to seat a fairly elected delegation from MI and FL (which requires a do-over), then you are disenfranchising the voters in those states. If a do-over is possible in MI and FL, it is a moral imperative to do so.

As for Bush v. Gore... I understand what you are saying, but I think the country will see it cuts both ways. You can argue that the DNC Rules Committee would be "stealing the election" for Hillary if they count the votes from Florida (in a do-over). But I strongly suspect it will appear to most Americans that the DNC is "stealing the election" for Obama if they refuse to count any votes from Florida (in a do-over).

Because, if nothing else, it's Florida.

Raised By Republicans said...

The difference between trying to change the rules in the middle of the game and just breaking the rules is important from a legalistic point of view.

But from the point of view of what it says about character it doesn't matter. As LTG pointed out, Hillary Clinton has the people in place to make this rule change happen - potentially even against Obama's objections.

And what is the motive? Is the motive one of principal? I doubt that. If she were committed in principal to letting Michigan and Florida pick their own primary dates, she never would have pledged to go along with punishing them in the first place.

No, this is about Hillary trying to re-write the rules - rules her supporters had a disproportionate say in establishing - to suit her immediate electoral needs.

That's what's got me annoyed. I don't say that she's cheating neccessarily (although I doubt there is a formally established rule that allows her to make the kind of appeal she is making for Michigan and Florida). Rather I think this whole thing exposes her as someone who will always chose ambition over principal.

Normally, that doesn't bother me. Politicians who are so slavish to their electoral ambitions tend to do what the median voter wants which results in lots of centrist policies - which I generally like.

But the issues of the day are not the run of the mill distributive issues of who will get a tax break or a new government benefit. The issues of the day are about torture, wire tapping, war, etc. I fear that Hillary's judgement on such matters will be driven by what she thinks will get her the most votes at the time, regardless of principal.

I think this mess with Michigan and Florida is part of a pattern.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Thank you for acknowledging some difference between trying to get the rules changed in the middle of the game, and just breaking the rules. And if it helps, I acknowledge that it probably feels like very little difference from Obama's point of view.

Although most DNC people probably still support Hillary, I am a little bit skeptical that she really does have enough people "in place" to change the rules over Obama's objections. It's a tough sell to change the rules midstream. And the Howard Dean factor probably should not be ignored here. He is on record as saying flatly the DNC will not admit MI/FL as-is and will never pay for do-overs.

I cannot say what Hillary's motives are for certain. But I'd bet my Ford pickup that the #1 reason she wants MI and FL to count is because she thinks it would be to her advantage to admit them--it suits her immediate electoral needs, as you put it, RbR. Likewise, I cannot say what Obama's motives are for certain. But I'd also bet that same Ford pickup (am I allowed to do that?) that the #1 reason he wants to keep MI and FL out is because he thinks it would be to his disadvantage to admit them--it suits his immediate electoral needs.

The only "pattern" I see here is that politicians look out for their own best interests. And I also think the Democratic party has done a lousy job of thinking through the consequences of adding and subtracting delegates--that's the pattern to which I think the MI/FL debacle and the superdelegate fiasco belong.

Look, I know you guys like Obama--I do too. But seriously... Don't you think that Obama would favor fair do-overs in MI and FL if he could do so without harming his chances of winning? I'm sure in a perfect world Obama would like to see everyone get a fair chance to vote, and I am sure he would rather not anger voters in MI and FL before the general election.

The reason I said this was Obama's "Al Gore" moment is because I think he actually could call for fair do-overs in MI and FL without harming his chances of winning. In fact, I think doing so might just secure him the nomination. It would be bold and statesmanlike and would leave Hillary with no more cards to play.

Raised By Republicans said...

My reference point for thinking Obama is different (and this is a big reason why I supported him instead of Edwards or Richardson) is his position on the war and torture. On both issues he stuck his neck out - early - before it was clear which way the electoral wind was blowing. To me, that's leadership based on principal.

Of course I think Obama is a rational politician who will do what he thinks will get him elected. The question is whether he thinks there are some things where principal is more important.

Obama has shown that he believes there are. I'm not convinced Clinton has. That's the pattern I'm seeing anyway.

The Law Talking Guy said...

If Obama were as far behind as HRC was - all but mathematically eliminated except for superdelegates he would have been forced to drop out by now. If he had happened to have won MI (without Clinton's name on the ballot) and FL, it would make little difference. If he demanded they be seated, or if he dared to call for do-overs in MI and FL, he would be loudly condemned from all quarters as "trying to divide the party" and "wanting to change the rules in the middle of the game." And of course, she has the DNC votes, but he doesn't, so he would never succeed anyway.

Clinton gets a pass on all this. She is presumed viable no matter what, and her quest for the nomination is presumed legitimate, no matter what.

Make no mistake, Clinton is the one threatening to divide the party, because - barring a miracle - she can ONLY win now if she gets the DNC to change the rules to her advantage OR gets the superdelegates to overrule the majority of the pledged delegates. You can see why Obama supporters hardly feel that HE has the legitimacy problem!

Dr. Strangelove said...

"Clinton gets a pass on all this."

LTG has written that statement several times on this blog, and I have always winced at it, but until now I have let it slide because I figured it was more of an emotional call than a rational assessment. But at this point I think I have to object.

First, the conventional wisdom is that the press has been far harsher on Hillary than on Obama. Surely you will acknowledge that, LTG. I think you can at least admit that is the conventional wisdom, even if you disagree with it.

Second, Hillary is presumed to be viable because she remains so. Obama is the clear front-runner but not the prohibitive front-runner. Bear with me for a moment here. If Hillary wins 60-40 in the remaining states, and if MI/FL run do-overs with the same 60-40 split, then Hillary would take the lead in the delegate count. This looks unlikely now of course, but (a) we've seen plenty of margins this large in the campaign, like Obama's astonishing strength in the Northwest, (b) Hillary has surprised us all at least twice, in New Hampshire and Ohio, and (c) a hell of a lot can happen in three months.

Furthermore, even if Hillary falls 40 or 50 delegates short, a big turnaround that ends the campaign with a big winning streak for Hillary would give her campaign a heap of legitimacy. Imagine a landslide in Pennsylvania for Clinton, which is hardly impossible. Imagine she draws even in North Carolina, or even ekes out a victory. Polling says these are unlikely, but not "all but mathematically" impossible.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Except for Arkansas, Clinton has not won any other state by 60% yet, not even her home state of New York. Obama has won 12 states by margins of 60% or greater. Her lead in national polls has vanished, and Obama has had a slight lead in most polls for nearly a month now. It is scarcely reasonable for her supporters to think Clinton will run the table now in a fashion she has been incapable of doing before. I doubt she'd get 60% in Michigan, for example. She couldn't get past 55% even when her name was the only one on the ballot.

Surely, you must admit that if Obama were as far behind as Clinton is but spun the sort of scenario Dr.S. just did as an argument for continued viability -relying on unprecedented percentage victories and changing DNC rules - everyone would be screaming for him to get out of the race and stop trying to win by dividing the Democratic party. But they don't. They just ask if Obama can hang on. That's what I mean by "Clinton gets a pass."

In fact, as we all know, Clinton is really just hoping for a superdelegate coup. None of her advisors think she'll get 60% in any state. Superdelegates are the only plausible scenario at this point.

How about another question - if Clinton gets less than 60% in PA, does she concede, or does she say, "Well, it's only 65% in other states now..." After she loses North Carolina to Obama on 5/6, will we hear, "only 70%..."

Raised By Republicans said...

I don't think LTG was suggesting that Hillary gets nothing but warm fuzzies from the press.

I think he was suggesting that despite the number of set backs and the bleak prospects currently facing Hillary, the press still reports on her as a viable candidate.

If any run of the mill candidate had suffered as many losses and had as little chance of winning as Clinton does the calls for that candidate to quit would be deafening. But not so with Clinton.

I've said before that I thought that if the Party Leadership could figue out a way to hand the nomination to Clinton they would do so. She is the annointed one as far as they are concerned.

That is part of why I think it's so facinating that despite the wide spread support for Clinton among the top party leadership, the local party activists that make up the caucuses have largely rejected her candidacy. That's a peculiar split between the top levels and the middle and lower levels of the party activists. One is left wondering why the party hierarchy seems to have lost control. My fear is that to reassert their control they will screw Obama in favor of Clinton.

The consequences of such a move would be a disaster for the Democratic party. Imagine you are a Black voter and the DNC hands the nomination to Hillary through a rule change or some other back room deal. Would you bother to vote again?

Dr. Strangelove said...

I disagree agree with your assertion that the press would call on anyone but HRC to quit at this point. It's all hypotheticals, of course, and we will never know, but let me phrase it how I'll bet you both would phrase it if it were your candidate who were behind...

If Obama were still within 160-170 delegates of catching Hillary this late in the race, would you give up on him? I sure would not. Especially with the delegates of two large states that voted overwhelmingly for him still in limbo. Especially with hundreds of superdelegates who have yet to weigh in. In my view, if Obama were this close to Hillary--and "this close" is precisely how the press would report the news about their favorite candidate!--I think the press would continue to cheer him on, as they have been doing throughout his whole campaign. I think all the pundits would be reminding us, "There's a lot of time left in this ball game."

Actually, Clinton received 60% of the pledged delegates in her home state of New York. She received 61% of the pledged delegates in Rhode Island. She received 59% of the pledged delegates in Mass. She received 63% of the pledged delegates in Oklahoma. She received 59% of the pledged delegates in Tennessee. It is certainly unlikely she can repeat these feats, but not impossible. Besides, there's always the chance Obama could go "Yeeeeha!" like Howard Dean after Iowa and blow it all. Polls can change.

Should Hillary drop out if she fails to muster 60% in PA? In my opinion, no. If she loses PA, then that will be the end of it. But if she wins in PA, she should keep fighting.

But as I have said, actually pulling even with Obama in pledged delegates is unlikely at this point. I think what Hillary wants to do is to get close enough and have enough legitimacy that superdelegates can put her over the top and the party will accept it. A string of large victories in the big states, even if not quite enough to put her over the top, would give her enough momentum and legitimacy that I think she could do it.

When it comes down to it, Obama and his supporters desperately want Hillary to drop out now because they are afraid she will win. And that is precisely why she should not quit.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I really should be clear though. Unless Hillary does in fact get very close (or better) in terms of pledged delegates--unless she really does manage a big string of victories and the political landscape shifts noticeably--then the superdelegates must vote for Obama. For exactly the reasons LTG and RbR have both been saying. What all of us have said. The nomination contest winner must be seen as legitimate or the party is toast in November. And perhaps long after.

The Law Talking Guy said...

There is an equal chance that HRC could scream "yeeeha!" also. I wouldn't count on that. Of course, HRC supporters assume that she is not likely to stumble like this.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Clinton needs 67% of the remaining 566 delegates to get a majority (1626) of the pledged delegates. If you include MI and FL as she needs 62% of the remaining pledged delegates to get a majority of the pledged delegates. If a revote is called in MI and FL, she still needs 62% of the remaining pledged delegates to get a majority of the pledged delegates. Nobody expects that to happen.

I would be urging Obama to leave the race if he were down in the national polls and down in the delegate count at this hour, and facing these sorts of odds to win the nomination. I was ready to do so on 2/5 if he had lost big.

So, again, it's all about superdelegates for Clinton now.

Under what circumstances, at what point, Dr.S., do you believe HRC should drop out of the race? Or do you think she has an absolute right to go to the floor of the convention and try to sway even pledged delegates no matter what harm it does to the party?

Dr. Strangelove said...

Yes, LTG... There is an equal chance that HRC could scream "yeeeha!" and blow the whole thing. I mentioned the possibility of Obama doing so because the context of my remark was a list if ways in which Obama might lose. I did not mean to imply that Obama was any more likely to do that. I did not mean to imply it was likely at all. I certainly did not indicate I was going to count on it. I was just trying to illustrate, with some color, how polls can change dramatically with very little reason. I hope you can understand this.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Huh. I shall have to re-check my figures. My spreadsheet tells me Hillary needs 60% of the remaining pledged delegates if she is to pull even with Obama, and that figure includes winning 60% of the pledged delegates in do-overs in MI/FL. (Although I suppose this is close enough to 62% that I won't quibble.)

You asked if there were any circumstances going forward under which I would call for Hillary to drop out. I have two.

1. If she cannot win PA.
2. If she cannot win 3 of the 5 primaries in May.

Dr. Strangelove said...

No, I do not believe Hillary should try to change the votes of pledged delegates on the floor of the convention. (With the exception of Edwards' pledged delegates, of course.)