EVENING UPDATE, FEBRUARY 9, 2008
• More primaries and caucuses today. Muke Huckabee has decisively won the Kansas Republican caucuses, proving that there is indeed life after death.
I don't know anything about the structure of the Kansas contest, but I'm guessing that Huckabee had important, residual support from evangelicals, who are strong in that state. The problem is, every little embarrassment like this diminishes the party's almost-certain nominee, John McCain. In that sense, Huckabee is doing his party a disservice, although he's being egged on by the anti-McCain diehards. McCain should be liberated to start his national effort, and not be required to fight a rear-guard action against those who resent him.
Some Republicans seem determined to repeat the mistakes made by the Democrats in the last forty years, insisting on ideological purity. It is the sure road to defeat. Mike Huckabee is unlikely to do well in a national election. He is widely seen as a regional candidate, if that. He could, if he were ever nominated, become the GOP's George McGovern, losing in a landslide and destroying the gains made by the Reagan revolution. And yet, at least up to this moment, he's refused to listen.
I wonder if this is more about 2012 than 2008. Huckabee, who is not short on ego, may hope to damage McCain, then see him lose, then try to pick up the pieces of the party. That's another dangerous strategy. While some will hand him the pieces, others will see him as the cause of the wreck, and shy away. George McGovern, after 1972, had no further significant role in national politics, although he did influence the way his party chose presidential candidates. That influence was felt in the choices of President Mondale and President Dukakis.
Mike, it's time to go.
• There's no better analyst of American politics than Michael Barone. In a piece that seems have been written just before Romney pulled out, but still has loads of wisdom, he sets out the task that John McCain has in uniting his party:
The best argument McCain can make to disgruntled conservatives is that he is a fighter. He has sometimes fought them, and after the 2000 primary campaign he never really stopped fighting George W. Bush until, some time in 2003 and 2004, it became clear to him that the Democrats with whom he was sometimes making common cause were determined to produce defeat in Iraq.
He should look ahead and tell conservatives that he will be fighting with them -- for victory in Iraq and against Islamist terrorists everywhere, to prevent the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, to install conservative judges on the Supreme Court, to keep the Democrats from snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. He can argue that he is like a United States Marine -- no better friend, no worse enemy -- and in the years ahead he is determined there will be no better friend for the causes they hold dearest.
And on the Democratic side:
Democratic voters in contests to come and Democratic super delegates may want to select the candidate with the best chance of winning. But that's a difficult assignment. Hillary Clinton polarizes general election voters right down the middle, which means (a) she can win and (b) she can lose. Barack Obama, with his soaring rhetoric about what unites Americans, has a higher upside potential but also, with his lack of experience, a lower downside potential, as well. Look for a long and harrowing contest.
I hope very long and I hope very harrowing.
• James Klurfeld of Newsday has written a sober analysis of the important role of super delegates in the race for the Democratic nomination. He gives a succinct history of the idea behind them:
Super delegates were created as part of the Democratic Party reforms after the debacle of 1972, when a too-liberal candidate, Sen. George McGovern, made it to the head of the ticket. The reforms emphasized the proportional allocation of delegates in primaries and the selection of super delegates who could provide the ballast needed in close contests or could guide the party away from a disastrous choice. They were to be "a safety valve," as one super delegate put it recently.
It's a fine idea, and very much a part of the American tradition. Some scream that they're "anti-democratic," but wait a moment. So is the US Senate, which gives two senators to every state regardless of population. Democracies need these safety valves to prevent public stampedes. They're especially needed within political parties, where stampedes are often the rule, rather than the exception. Klurfeld goes on:
If you were a Democratic super delegate, you'd have this to consider today: Sen. Hillary Clinton demonstrated some very significant strengths Tuesday night, especially with women, older voters, Latinos and working-class voters. And she won the state with the biggest block of voters, California. But Sen. Barack Obama is attracting new voters and independent voters, the type you might need to win in November.
What are the key factors to a professional politician? The older voters who support Clinton are much more likely to vote in November than the young voters who've supported Obama. Historically, younger voters, when they do vote, don't differ that much from their parents. Look again at 1972, when the Democrats believed newly enfranchised 18-year-olds would make a difference for McGovern. They did not.
By the way, James Klurfeld's father was the chief assistant to Walter Winchell, who invented the modern gossip column. Winchell was one of the most powerful men in America in the thirties and forties. A good mention in his column could put someone on the political or theatrical map. A bad rap and that person would be on the next boat to South America.
• The Writers Guild has reached a tentative settlement with the people we call "the suits" in Hollywood. (I am a Guild member.) This is actually very bad news for the suits. Now, as before the strike, they will have to make decisions. Decisions cost money. Money gets lost. Suits get eased out, and the company takes away their credit cards and parking spaces. This is catastrophic. Their kids can't even face their teachers in Beverly Hills schools, since the teachers are often married to people who work in the business. I don't know what these suits will do when confronted with empty TV schedules. I, for one, am ready to reach out with comforting words. Not.
Word of the tentative deal came Saturday in an early morning e-mail message to members of the Writers Guild of America West and the Writers Guild of America East. The deal was to be reviewed by members at previously scheduled mass meetings here and in New York later in the day.
In their e-mail message, Patric M. Verrone, president of the West Coast guild, and Michael Winship, his East Coast counterpart, said: “Much has been achieved, and while this agreement is neither perfect nor perhaps all that we deserve for the countless hours of hard work and sacrifice, our strike has been a success.”
We'll look at the fine print. And the industry isn't out of the woods:
In Hollywood, excitement about a possible return to work has been dampened by widespread realization that the Screen Actors Guild, which represents 120,000 actors, is approaching a contract negotiation no less difficult than the writers’ talks. A contract with the actors guild expires June 30, and leaders of that union have repeatedly signaled that they intend to take a tough stance in negotiations. Anticipation of a walkout by actors has created a recent frenzy of feature firm production, as studios stockpiled movies based on existing scripts, but scheduled virtually no production to begin later than early April.
If the actors walk out, we always have Bill and Hillary, the sequel, featuring some of the best character acting around.
• Finally, the archbishop of Canterbury should recant or be buried. The man has stirred up a storm, reported here, by suggesting that some aspects of Sharia law could be accepted in England. In the Telegraph, Charles Moore explains why this could be a mite awkward. At this moment in history, Moore points out, Sharia represents ideas that have gone tragically astray:
As a post-Vatican II Catholic myself, I share the ecumenical beliefs of most modern Christians. One of these is that Islam, being one of the three "Abrahamic" religions, has a great deal in common with Christianity, and that these common roots should be cultivated. It contains truth, and wisdom, and has built civilisations.
But it is also blindingly obvious that the current state of Islam is quite different from that of Christianity. Western societies are hosts to large numbers of Muslims, who quarrel fiercely among themselves and include extreme, sometimes violent minorities. Goodness knows, the history of Christianity is scarred with such things, but at the moment, in the West, Christian violence is not a big problem. Muslim violence is. If we incorporated sharia in our legal system, whom would we accept as its authentic interpreters?
Well, you could always get the guys who teach Middle Eastern studies at American universities. They're fun, and the Saudis who pay for their professorships would get their money's worth.
Posted on February 9, 2008.