First off, Id like to apologize to all of you for missing the last week; but, alas, The Wolf needed to take his vacation to the Holy Land. If youre interested you can catch up with my adventures over at Word of the People.
Unfortunately, my timing was a bit off as the last couple of weeks have been very interesting. McCain has now began to develop his general election strategy, Huckabee has vanished, and Obama and Hillary have begun their 12th round brawl, all leading up to tomorrows primary and what could be Clintons last stand. Will she fall to the onslaught of Omentum? Or will she live up to her self-proclaimed image as the come-from-behind-kid? Well be looking at this and more in this edition of Election 08.
Probably the best place I can begin is at the last Democratic debate in Ohio that was held on February 27th. Watching the recap on BBC World from my hotel room in Jerusalem it was apparent that they thought Obama won handily; yet, upon further study, one can see that though Obama may have come out the victor in this debate, some holes have appeared in his armor.
The first of these holes came as Tim Russert questioned Obama about his connection with the Minister Louis Farrakhan. This story, weeks old, was renewed as the Minister endorsed Obama, and Russert, in his patented dopey manner, suggested that Obama should both denounce Farrakhan and reject his support. Obama denounced Farrakhans anti-Semitic rhetoric, but in regards to his support said:
Well, Tim, I can’t say to somebody that he can’t say that he thinks I’m a good guy. You know, I have been very clear in my denunciations of him and his past statements, and I think that indicates to the American people what my stance is it on those comments.
This of course led to tons of inane Internet traffic regarding the semantics of the words denounce and reject and which is the harsher condemnation. On its own this probably wouldnt have been that bad, but Obamas support of Jews came further into the spotlight as it was reported by the Jerusalem Post that in a discussion with various members of Clevelands Jewish community Obama called for more moderation and centrism in dealing with Israel-Palestine relations. Since then hes been on damage control and on Friday he loudly voiced his support of Israel at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee.
But the most important problem for Obama that emerged from the Ohio debate came in a seemingly innocuous discussion about NAFTA. I say innocuous because, while rhetoric regarding NAFTA can get heated, its primarily a null-issue. Regardless of what Pat Buchanan and other populist anti-globalization zealots say, NAFTA, for better or worse, is here to stay. But every election cycle everyone trots out their anti-NAFTA flags and waves them around for a while, especially in states like Ohio where NAFTA can easily be blamed, in full, for their horrendous economy.
Both Clinton and Obama were no exception and both vowed to revisit the issue, demand that it be renegotiated, and if the terms werent beneficial to America they would disengage from it. However, where it became sticky for Obama is when the Associate Press obtained a memo from a Canadian official that reported that Obamas senior economic official, Austan Goolsbee (yes, that is his name), contacted the Canadian consulate in Chicago and explained to them that Obamas NAFTA rhetoric, should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.” In other words, Obama would talk about it, but not be about it.
Goolsbee has since claimed that his words were misinterpreted, and that the above quote wasnt exactly what he said, but the damage may have been done, especially since one of the largest criticisms of Obama is that his platform is more words than substance.
That being said, Obamas first errors of the campaign, and a well timed appearance on Saturday Night Live gave this last couple of weeks to Clinton, who amid shrinking margins in Ohio and Texas, still maintains a slim lead in those must win states. However its looking increasingly like mission impossible for the Hillary.
If we look at the delegate count, Obama is still ahead in elected delegates and has closed the gap in Super Delegates, and looking down the road, Clinton has to know that even if she holds Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania she must then win the rest of the primaries by margins of roughly 3 to 1 in order to draw even to Obama, since the Democrats have delegates given by proportion of votes. The Clinton camp had hoped to have the nomination back on Super Tuesday, but now this contest could be over tomorrow if she doesnt win and win big.
On the Republican side, McCain stands alone, and even though Huckabees still in the race his candidacy has taken on full vanity status as hes barely mentioned in the press anymore. McCain, a man whose rise can be mostly attributed to luck, still seems to be on fortunes good side as he has also benefited from an Obama error.
Two weeks ago McCains candidacy had hit a major impasse coming in the form of a NY Times article that exposed McCains love-hate relationship with lobbyistspossibly an all too literal relationship, as the Times insinuated that McCain had been having an affair with a female lobbyist who had traveled with him during his presidential run eight years ago. Id criticized the article on my blog, arguing that the writers of the Times piece sullied their own work by focusing on the allusion to a possible affair rather than on the tenable and documented links between McCain and big business.
I didnt think that the article would end his run but I figured it would have gotten bigger teeth than it did. However McCain was able to stumble back thanks to another misstep from Obama, who, during the Ohio debate, said that, though he would withdraw troops from Iraq, he would reserve the right to send them back in should Al-Qaeda establish a base there. This gave McCain the ammo for his strongest barrage yet, saying:
I have some news Al Qaeda is in Iraq. Its called Al Qaeda in Iraq. My friends, if we left, they wouldnt be establishing a base. Theyd be taking a country and Im not going to allow that to happen.
Even President Bush got in on it, stating during a press conference:
It’s an interesting comment If al-Qaeda is securing a al-Qaeda base? Yeah, well, that’s exactly what they’ve been trying to do for the past four years.”
Obama then retorted:
I have some news for John McCain, There was no such thing as Al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq.
This is a nice sound byte, but it masks a huge problem for Obama should he be the nominee come the fall. McCains only shot at winning the presidency is to, against the prevailing sentiment in America, sell continuing our presence in Iraq as vital to US security.
If Obama admits that its a possibility that Al-Qaeda will set root in Iraq, or that Al-Qaeda is entrenched in Iraq, then, as John McLaughlin lamented on this weeks McLaughlin Group, there is fundamentally no difference between Obama and Bushs Iraq policy. And if thats the case then McCain will make the argument that hes the most qualified man to continue that policy. It is of the utmost importance that Obama clearly expresses a different strategy.
Things to look forward to this week: The three coast primary this week for the Democrats that include the must win states of Ohio and Texas. Right now Obamas got a slight lead in Texas but Im calling them both for Hillary as the demographics of both states are in her favor. Regardless, I feel that Obama will make a strong policy announcement this week to straighten out the slow listing of his ship, and look for Huckabee to bow out quietly this week, but he will reserve his endorsement of McCain.