washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: May 2008

Tomorrow’s Rules Showdown, and After

This morning’s staff post linked to the essential reading all good political junkies should undertake in preparation for tomorrow’s DNC Rules and Bylaws meeting in Washington to resolve the Michigan and Florida delegate issue. Walter Shapiro’s Salon piece on the subject provides a good preview of the likely outcome:

Despite desperate cries from the Hillary Clinton camp to count every delegate from these two outlaw primaries, which she won, the contours of a half-a-loaf deal are already in place, according to Democratic insiders. Key figures on the Rules Committee informally agreed by telephone Wednesday night to seat the entire Florida delegation based on the Jan. 29 primary, but to give them each only half a vote. The same principle would be applied to Michigan, but there are still unresolved complications over how to handle the “Uncommitted” delegates chosen in the Jan. 15 primary in which Barack Obama’s name was not even on the ballot.
Under this 50 percent compromise, the beleaguered Clinton would gain a 28-delegate edge (19 from Florida and nine from Michigan), not counting the half-votes from the 53 superdelegates from the two rogue states. With Obama nearly 200 delegates ahead and the clock nearing midnight for Clinton, the Rules Committee’s verdict is likely only briefly to delay the anointment of a Democratic nominee.

As Shapiro and others note, a legal brief from DNC lawyers suggesting that party rules limit the Rules & Bylaws Committee from seating more than half the MI and FL delegates paved the way for this solution, which also puts Democrats in line with the sanctions meted out to MI and FL by the Republican Party.
The big issue to watch for tomorrow, however, is how the Clinton campaign reacts to the half-a-loaf deal. They’ve certainly shown no overt signs of accepting a compromise, given the demonstrations they are organizing for the meeting, demanding that both states get full delegation votes.
But the situation really does pose a terrible strategic dilemma for HRC. Accepting the deal would only narrow Obama’s delegate lead marginally, but it would ratify the popular vote results for MI and FL. Depending on how caucus states are counted, and pending the results of the last three contests (where HRC’s popular-vote count is in danger of being undermined by a low turnout in Puerto Rico), party-wide acceptance of the MI and FL votes might bolster her cumulative-popular-vote-victory argument. This is about the only weapon she has left with superdelegates (other than electability claims that aren’t strongly supported by general election polls).
Accepting the deal, though, would presumably foreclose the option of an effort through the Credentials Committee prior to and at the Convention to seat all of the MI/FL delegates, which is the only way under current conditions that HRC can get close enough to Obama’s delegate counts to have any chance to deny him the nomination. On the other hand, rejecting the deal and clearly indicating she’s continuing the battle all the way to Denver could produce a negative superdelegate reaction, and perhaps divisions in her own camp.
The underlying reality for quite some time has been that HRC’s slim hopes for victory depend almost entirely on some terrible development for the Obama campaign that makes her largely theoretical electability arguments tangible and urgent. It hasn’t happened, and the primary season is about to end.
Still, there’s a path she could take that would avoid the appearance of a deeply divisive and largely hopeless fight all the way to Denver. She could accept (with misgivings) the MI/FL deal, get through June 3, make her last pitch to superdelegates, suspend (but not abandon) her campaign, and then sit tight and try to pay some bills. If the Obama campaign does somehow implode, and he’s running fifteen or twenty points behind McCain in the weeks before the Convention, HRC could revive her campaign, and the superdelegates could flip en masse to Clinton if they wished. At that point, her popular-vote-victory claims would provide a nice rationalization for repudiation of the putative nominee by a panic-stricken party leadership.
This course of action, and the period of reconciliation it would invite, might also increase the currently low odds of an Obama-Clinton Unity Ticket, if that’s indeed HRC’s goal, as many observers believe.
I have no clue if this reflects the thinking within the Clinton camp. But she’ll have to make up her mind pretty soon, and the brinksmanship reflected in her rhetoric on MI and FL, and her encouragement of a sense of grievance among her supporters, can’t be sustained much longer without serious negative consequences for her own and the party’s political future.

General Election Polls: A Summary

In his latest National Journal column, Mark Blumenthal provides an excellent brief summary of what we can learn and what we can’t learn from early general election polls, both of the national and the state-by-state variety, in terms of the electability arguments being made on behalf of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He concludes that both Obama and Clinton have entirely plausible “paths to victory” in a general election, though Clinton at present has a somewhat larger group of “reachable” states from which to cull 270 electoral votes. He also warns readers that polling evidence from some key states is sparse, of uneven quality, and most obviously, very early.

Flor-igan Fuss, Obama Strategies, Soft Power, Southern Swing, Youth Vote

Tomorrow is a huge day for the Democratic presidential race, and Salon.com‘s Walter Shapiro has a preview of “The fight over Florida and Michigan,” as does Christi Parsons of the Chicago Tribune‘s Washington Bureau. L.A. Times political reporter Mark Z. Barabak addresses the issue in a FAQ format and Marie Horrigan of CQPolitics reports on the infighting among Michigan Dems over proposed solutions. See also MSNBC First Read, which names the 30 members of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee who will make the decision and also identifies the candidates 21 of them support (13 back Clinton, 8 favor Obama and 9 are uncommitted). First Read pundits Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro consider three possible outcomes of the Committee’s deliberations.
Eric Kleefeld riffs on “What’s Obama’s Route To The White House?” over at TPM Election Central, a good companion piece to Robert Creamer’s HuffPo article “Obama’s Path to Victory in November.”
Ilan Goldenberg, policy director of the National Security Network, has an article in The American Prospect, “It’s Time to Stop Talking About Soft Power,” which should be of interest to those who followed James Vega’s five-part series on Democratic policy and military strategy here at TDS.
Chris Kromm of Facing South mulls over Poblano’s 538.com simulations to answer an interesting question: “Election 2008: Are there any Southern presidential ‘swing states’?
Paul Maslin, pollster for candidates Howard Dean in ’04 and Bill Richardson in ’08, tackles a question of increasing interest for Dems: “Will the youth vote win it for Obama this fall?”, also at Salon.com

Why McCain Will Probably Get McNasty

Over at The Corner, Ramesh Ponnuru linked to my post yesterday predicting that the McCain campaign would inevitably head to the gutter in an effort to frighten voters about Barack Obama. Ramesh responded:

I will make a prediction of my own: The Democrats are almost certain to treat any campaign that threatens to deprive Obama of the presidency as negative and nasty.

I suspect where he’s going with this is the rejoinder that “comparative” campaigning is entirely legitimate, and that complaints about “negative” campaigning are sometimes efforts to avoid public scrutiny of one’s record or “character.”
Fair enough. But as my post discussed at some length, there are specific reasons that the attack on Obama won’t be some sort of high-minded analytical examination of his voting record or policy platform–or even of his “experience”–but will instead focus on “character” issues that represent little more than an effort to raise invidious fears about Obama’s “otherness.”
I got into this analysis as a meditation on Mark Schmitt’s argument that the only real message left to Republicans this year is an “American identity” appeal that battens on public fears of the unfamiliar. But let me come at this from another angle.
McCain is a candidate with a lot of built-in handicaps in terms of the partisan fundamentals, the mood of the country, and the issues landscape. He also suffers from a palpably unenthusiastic party base, and will be the first Republican presidential candidate in eons to struggle with a financial disadvantage. Against these handicaps, he has to capture the electoral “center” while shoring up his base. And he’s facing a Democratic nominee with his own appeal to the “center,” as measured by tangible support in the primaries and the polls from independents and even some disgruntled Republicans.
There are two ways to “capture the center” in electoral politics. One way is to occupy it with popular and transpartisan policy positions that create the impression that the candidate is bigger than his or her party, and is in alignment with the public’s needs and aspirations. (That, of course, runs the risk of discouraging the party base.) The other way is to push your opponent out of “the center” with attacks on him or her as “extremist,” which has the added benefit of helping to fire up your own base.
It is theoretically possible to campaign both ways. That, in fact, was what Richard Nixon did in 1972, through a series of strategic moves that appealed to various Dem-leaning voter and interest groups, while savaging McGovern as a pacifistic nimrod surrounded by drug legalizers, abortion supporters and welfare rights advocates. Bill Clinton arguably pulled off a milder version of the take-the-center, push-the-other-guy-out strategy in 1996.
Can John McCain really occupy the political center in the course of a long general election campaign? It’s doubtful. His “centrist” reputation is largely the product of a brief moment in his career–his 2000 nomination campaign–and the friends (in the news media) and enemies (in the conservative movement) that moment earned him. He’s spent much of this electoral cycle so far erasing all the positions that once made him look like a “maverick,” engaging in conspicuous love-ins with the high poohbahs of conservative economic and cultural orthodoxy. And it’s very likely that McCain’s long honeymoon with the news media is coming to an end, in part because of clever and systematic Democratic efforts to upbraid the media for the “free ride” they’ve given the Arizonan, and in part because this year’s Democratic nominee, unlike the last two, is not a man the media instinctively dislike (au contraire)
Moreover, McCain’s most distinctive policy position going into the general election is his identification with the idea of “victory” in Iraq. That will continue to be a very hard sell.
So given John McCain’s positioning, and a political and financial landscape which will deny him any breaks, it’s simply hard to deny that his best bet will be to try to push Obama out of the center, which is what conservative opinion outlets and operatives are going to do anyway.
It is also theoretically possible that McCain’s attacks on Obama could be substantive, and focused on policy positions and a Senate voting record that Republicans will describe as “liberal, liberal, liberal” in the grand old fashion of the last three decades. But this may well be the first presidential election in the last three decades where voters would actually prefer a “liberal, liberal, liberal” to anyone tainted with the GOP label.
It will be vastly easier for the McCain campaign to talk about the Rev. Wright, and flag pins, and Michelle Obama’s alleged lack of patriotism, and Obama’s “radical friends,” and under the radar screen, about secret Muslims and interracial families.
Maybe McCain would personally prefer to make his campaign an exchange of views on weighty matters of war and peace and prosperity and values and “reform.” I’m sure Ramesh Ponnuru would prefer that, too. But like it or not, the GOP and its candidate are out of step with the country right now on a wide array of issues, and the GOP “brand” is going to be a huge drag on McCain. It would be naive to think that his campaign won’t exploit the “character” loophole in the general rules of issues-based campaigning to make this election not about policies, but about the unknown, and to many voters frightening, prospect of a country led by this unprecedented politician named Barack Obama. And once McCain starts down this road, he won’t be able to come back.

Through the Eyes of the Opposition

At the Politico today, Ben Adler has an article assessing the three women (all governors) most frequently mentioned as possible running-mates for Barack Obama: Janet Napolitano of AZ, Kathleen Sebelius of KS, and Claire McCaskill of MO. As the headline and lede suggest, Adler’s hypothesis is that these three women differ from Hillary Clinton in that they are not “polarizing,” as though this is somehow a typical gender problem. That annoying detail aside, the piece is interesting in that Adler chooses to assess the governors through the eyes of Republicans in their states. And while it’s obvious from the tone of their comments that there’s not a lot of genuine bipartisan affection in play in any of the three states, the governors do get high marks from their opponents for having world-class political skills. It’s worth a read.
UPCATEGORY: Democratic Strategist

McCain’s Blunder on G.I. Bill

Senator John McCain’s campaign fairs poorly in CNNPolitics.com‘s story, “GOP strategist: Democrats outmaneuver GOP over GI Bill.” The legislation, which McCain opposed, provides for a modest expansion in benefits for veterans with three years of post 9-11 service.
McCain argued that the bill would reduce military retention by 16 percent and discourage service members from becoming noncommissioned officers. However, GOP strategist and former Mike Huckabee campaign chairman Ed Rollins reportedly said of McCain’s opposition to the bill, which last week passed the U.S. Senate by a hefty 75-22 margin:

I think John McCain has been outmaneuvered…Sometimes in politics, there are intellectual issues and emotional issues…John McCain is going against veterans groups; he is going against a constituency that should be his. … But I think he is on the wrong side of this issue.

As for the political fallout, CNN quotes Rollins:

A lot of Republicans are voting for this, and I think to a certain extent as it moves forward there will be more and more. There will be tremendous pressure from veterans groups past and present and I think you will see a lot of bipartisan support for this as well…Intellectually, John McCain may be right, the president may be right. Emotionally, you are on the wrong side, you can never win an emotional battle in an intellectual argument.

While the occasionally insightful Rollins may have a point about intelllectual arguments rarely winning emotional battles (ala Drew Westen), I have doubts that McCain is on very solid intellectual ground with his argument about the bill hurting military “retention rates” by 16 percent. It just sounds a little too precise. Can any study accurately predict what military personnel will decide to do out of context? If our trained soldiers perceive a real threat to national security, would we really lose 16 percent? With respect to Iraq, on the other hand, we ought to be scaling back a lot more than 16 percent of those soldiers who put in three very tough years, anyway. It seems a lame excuse for opposing a bill that would help America’s veterans.
McCain has tried to distract attention from the issue by bashing Obama for not having served in the military. As for veteran status as a pivotal factor, Rollins points out that “George Bush’s father was a war hero lost the veterans’ vote to Bill Clinton…Same way with Bob Dole, a war hero lost the vote.”
In other words, military service is a significant plus for any political candidate. But it does not necessarily protect a candidate from the consequences of exercizing poor judgment on major issues, especially at a time when the candidate’s political party is having its own very serious problem with “retention rates.”
McCain has an alternative veterans’ benefits bill that would base education benefits on a sliding scale according to an individual’s years of service, and some version of it may eventually pass. His opposition to a military benefits bill supported by 75 Senators nonetheless puts him squarely in league with the out-of-touch Bush-Cheney ideologues who have a tight fist for vets, while squandering billions of taxpayer dollars on military contractors of questionable integrity to prolong a horrific military quagmire, with no end in sight. “Hey, I’m a vet” and even a war hero narrative may have less political resonance in such a context.

Jim Webb and the Scots-Irish Vote

This seems to be Jim Webb Week in the political media, in part due to the publication of the Virginia Senator’s new book, A Time To Fight. In my post yesterday reciting the pros and cons of Webb as a potential running-mate for Barack Obama, I mentioned the theory of some that the distinguished historian of the Scots-Irish-American people might help Obama with those Appalachian voters among whom he has famously been trounced by Hillary Clinton in a series of Democratic primaries. This matters because of the political clout of Appalachians in at least four potential general-election battleground states (OH, PA, WV and VA).
I thought it might be useful to examine Webb’s own electoral pull among Appalachian voters in his one electoral contest, his narrow victory over George Allen in 2006. And as I suspected, Webb didn’t do that well among his Scots-Irish lundsmen, winning mainly due to his electoral strength in urban Virginia and the Northern Virginia suburbs.
It’s particularly interesting to compare Webb’s electoral profile in Appalachia to that of the previous two successful Democratic statewide candidates, Mark Warner (a WASPY neoliberal gazillionaire from NoVa), and Tim Kaine (a Catholic civil rights lawyer from Richmond). Here are links to county-by-county maps (with clickable popular vote numbers and percentages) for Warner in 2001, Kaine in 2005, and Webb in 2006.
Webb did a bit better than Kaine in Appalachia, winning five counties to Kaine’s four, and running slightly ahead of him in several other counties. But that differential must be offset by the fact that Kaine was running against a Republican (Jerry “No Relation” Kilgore) whose electoral base was in SW Virginia.
Moreover, Webb’s peformance lagged far behind that of Mark Warner, who (astonishingly) actually carried SW Virginia in a key component of his statewide win over Jim Gilmore (the man he also faces in this year’s Senate contest).
Now personallly, it comes as no surprise to me that Jim Webb’s strong personal identification with the Scots-Irish heritage didn’t pull a lot of votes. The Scots-Irish are probably this country’s least self-conscious identifiable ethnic group. As it happens, my own background is pretty similar to Webb’s, and I can tell you that none of my extended family have any idea that they are Scots-Irish. Yes, in Appalachia proper, a lot of people self-identify as “mountain folk” or even “hillbillies,” but most have little more than a dim idea that many of their ancestors were lowland Scots who spent a century or two doing England’s dirty work in Northern Ireland, before emigrating to America through Pennsylvania and scattering down through the mountain passes southward and westward. And in the vast Scots-Irish diaspora that stretches from the uplands of South Carolina across the continent to central and southern California, those with any self-conscious identity at all are much more likely to think of themselves as “crackers” or “peckerwoods” or “Okies” than as the subjects of Jim Webb’s loving literary attentions.
But what impresses me most about the Virginia electoral numbers above isn’t Jim Webb’s relative weakness in Appalachia, but Mark Warner’s overwhelming strength in a region where he had no natural advantages. Outside Virginia, Warner’s 2001 rural voter coup was almost invariably attributed (with a lot of encouragement from the celebrity redneck strategist Mudcat Sanders) to cultural “cues”‘ like his sponsorship of a NASCAR entry, his bluegrass campaign song, and those “Sportsmen For Warner” signs that sprouted up far off the interstates. As a resident of rural Virginia in 2001, my own very strong impression is that the cultural stuff kept the door open for Warner, but he sealed the deal with a fiscal and economic message that appealed to people who felt left behind by the go-go economy of the 1990s, and ignored by the politicians in Richmond. People, in other words, a lot like those Appalachian voters who are up for grabs in the 2008 presidential election.
What you say to Appalachians, in other words, may matter as much or more than who you are–a lesson taught by Warner, and for that matter, by Hillary Clinton, the Seven-Sisters-Educated feminist daughter of suburban Chicago, who has done pretty well among mountain folk this year. And in the end, that’s good news for Barack Obama, who ought to be able–with or without Jim Webb’s help–to articulate an economic message more appealing to the forgotten people of the uplands than anything John McCain can muster.

McCain and “American Identity”

The always-interesting Mark Schmitt has penned a fine essay for The American Prospect on the intellectual bankruptcy of contemporary conservatism, and the strong likelihood that the Republican Party is about to enter a period of significant decline, until such time as it can generate new ideas and leaders.
Unlike Mark, I haven’t had the time or patience to slog through the raft of recent books on the future of conservatism, so I’ll take his word for it that would-be conservative “reformers” like Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam, David Frum and Mickey Edwards haven’t come up with anything revolutionary, and that Republican politicians and “base” voters aren’t willing to embrace much change in any event.
But Mark makes an observation about the current Republican Party and the McCain campaign that is spot-on and very important: given the discredited nature of such conservative ideological frameworks as supply-side economics and neocon foreign policy, and in the absence of anything that could be described as “McCainism,” the GOP this year is being driven to a primal, bare-bones appeal to “American identity.”

This year the Republican argument is reduced to its barest essence: Americans versus “pluribus,” unprotected by the politeness of issues or safer symbolism. Hence McCain’s slogan, the politics of the flag pin, the e-mails charging that Obama doesn’t salute the flag, and the attempt to associate him with the anti-American politics of 1968, when he was 7 years old. This, then, may be the ultimate high-stakes gamble for the party of confident risk-takers: Accept that everything else–ideas, competence, governance–is gone, and instead of trying to reconstruct it, as the books recommend, bet everything on the bare essentials of Republican identity politics, “The American President Americans Are Waiting For.”

Mark doesn’t come out and say it, but he’s explained why the McCain campaign is almost certain to be one of the most negative and nasty in living memory, despite McCain’s alleged “centrism.” Theoretically, an “American identity” campaign could be unifying, uplifting, and communitarian in tone. But that’s Barack Obama’s theme, not John McCain’s. And in the current political climate, and for a candidate of the Right, an “American identity” appeal is bound to be exclusive, fearful and even vengeful. McCain really has no other option.
Think about it. McCain’s war record, “character,” and occasional exercises in “independence” might be enough to get him over the hump in an election year where Americans really wanted a Republican president, though perhaps one not named “Bush.” But that’s obviously not how 2008 is shaping up. McCain isn’t going to win the presidency with his foreign policy views. Given how terribly out of alignment he is with public opinion on Iraq, the amazing thing is that he’s doing as well as he is in assessments of him as a commander-in-chief; the numbers are unlikely to improve the more voters get to know McCain’s essentially neocon position on foreign policy.
On domestic issues, McCain at best offers a slightly sanitized version of Bush-era conservatism: he doesn’t like pork-barrel spending and torture; isn’t a global-warming denier; and doesn’t strike anyone as the kind of man who will wake up every morning in the White House scheming to criminalize abortion or demonize gays and lesbians. That’s not a lot of “change.” As for McCain’s reputation for bipartisanship, there’s not much left there these days beyond the echo chamber he shares with Democratic apostate Joe Lieberman.
So like it or not, John McCain is going to be relentlessly driven in the direction of a negative effort to make the contest about his Democratic opponent rather than his own or his party’s merits, and in Barack Obama, he’s got an opponent tailor-made for a gutter campaign aimed at convincing swing voters that he simply represents too much change, and too much risk, in the very visceral sense of embodying so many unfamiliar things.
There’s a pretty clear historical precedent for the strategy that McCain is likely to pursue: Jimmy Carter’s 1980 campaign. Carter faced a political landscape just as forbidding as McCain’s today: a weak economy, plunging U.S. strength and prestige around the world, an exceptionally sour public mood, and a restless and uninspired party “base.” Unsurprisingly, Carter staked his re-election on an effort to make the contest a referendum on all the doubts and fears raised by Ronald Reagan. His Convention Acceptance speech was built on the theme of “The Two Futures,” a forthright appeal to voters to forget about the previous four years and focus on the scary prospects of a Reagan presidency. That was also Carter’s approach in the one 1980 presidential debate, in which his “two futures” argument was decisively trumped by Reagan’s simple “are you better off?” formulation of the case for change.
Perhaps John McCain is in a better position than the 1980 incumbent Carter to offer a minimum case that he represents some degree of “change,” but the odds are that his candidacy will depend on doing a better job than Carter at frightening voters about his opponent. So buckle in for a tough, unsavory GOP campaign, sports fans. When you’re wrong on the issues, your party and ideology have been discredited, and the whole sweep of history seems to conspire against you, dragging the campaign deep into the mud may be the only option left.

Jim Webb, His Fans, and His Detractors

Can anyone recall a presidential election cycle in which there has been so much speculation and argument about Veep choices so very early? The only one that comes to mind is 1964, when LBJ conducted a very extended and very public “search” for a running-mate that seemed to include virtually every Democratic elected official in the country.
There are obvious reasons for this Veep-o-mania. On the Republican side, John McCain’s age, and his less-than-perfect relationship with the GOP’s dominant conservative wing, have made his choice of running-mate a very big deal, leading to a common assumption (which I share) that conservatives will enjoy an implicit veto over the decision.
On the Democratic side, early Veep speculation has been spurred by perceptions that the long nomination contest has divided the party, and that Barack Obama has some very specific weaknesses in his biography and his electoral appeal that a running-mate might help address. Moreover, the idea that he could heal the intraparty wounds and broaden his appeal by forming a “Unity Ticket” with Hillary Clinton has acceletated the discussion, since there’s some sense that an early move in that direction by Obama might bring Clinton’s challenge to a decisive and amicable end.
In any event, we are beginning to hear the opening salvoes of the argument over a prospective Obama running-mate, beyond the strong negative reaction of many Obama supporters and progressive pundits to the Unity Ticket talk. And it’s not surprising that the name of Virginia Sen. Jim Webb is already arousing some very passionate pro and con feelings.
A lot of this sentiment hasn’t quite gone public yet, but there’s a sizable group of progressive activists and bloggers who viscerally identify with Webb’s staunch opposition to the Iraq War, his high-octane brand of economic populism, and (I might as well come out and say it, since Webb’s most avid promoters are almost invariably male) his testosterone-heavy approach to politics generally.
On a more rational level, at a time when there’s a lot of disagreement about what Obama most needs in a running-mate, Webb is rivalled only by Bill Richardson in the number of “boxes” his potential candidacy would check.
As a war hero and former Secretary of the Navy, Webb abundantly possesses the national security credentials that–on paper at least–Obama largely lacks.
He’s from a medium-sized red state that most Democrats consider potentially winnable.
As a former Republican, Webb could shore up Obama’s once-formidable and now-vulnerable ability to reach out to disaffected GOPers and GOP-leaning independents.
And Webb is the distinguished expert on and personal embodiment of a particular demographic group–the Scotch-Irish Americans who populated Appalachia and eventually migrated through the South and all the way to California–among whom Obama has done especially poorly in the Democratic primaries.
There are a few other factors that Webb boosters sometimes cite in his favor. One is his stellar performance delivering the 2007 Democratic response to Bush’s State of the Union Address, often contrasted with the understated effort this year by Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a frequently-mentioned Veep possibility for Obama. And another is the talent for expression Webb has evidenced in his long literary career in fiction and nonfiction works, most recently his well-timed new book, A Time to Fight, which lays out a comprehensive agenda for the Democratic Party and the country.
But the case for Webb as Veep (even if he wants the gig, which is not at all clear from his recent comments on the subject) is by no means going to go unchallenged, as shown by a guest post today on Matt Yglesias’ site by feminist blogger Kathy G., who deems Webb “unacceptable.”
Kathy G. devotes some attention to disputing the positive case for Webb. She cites his relatively poor performance among white voters in VA in 2006, in a strong Democratic year against a wounded Republican incumbent; and his reputation as an indifferent campaigner and a difficult person generally. She also examines the downside of Webb’s ex-Republican status, including his past support for Republican candidates and policy positions, and his very recent endorsement of conservative revisionist theories about the Vietnam War.
But the heart of her post, in an exposition that we will hear again and again if Webb gets “short-listed” by Obama for the Veep position, is about Webb’s history on gender issues, dating all the way back to a highly controversial 1979 magazine piece in which the future Secretary of the Navy denounced the admission of women to the military academies, and opposed any consideration of allowing them anywhere near combat.
Webb, says Kathy G., became an enabler of all sorts of torments aimed at women in the military:

Webb’s writings on women did a hell of a lot of damage. It gave invaluable ammunition to the enemies of women’s presence in the military and helped stall and perhaps even roll back women’s progress there. Kathleen Murray, a 1984 academy graduate who went on to become a commander in the Navy, said of Webb’s screed: “This article was brandished repeatedly. [Men] quoted and used it as an excuse to mistreat us.”

And Webb’s controversial utterances about women in the military didn’t abate much later on.

At a 1991 convention of naval aviators called Tailhook, 83 women were reported to have been sexually harassed or assaulted by military personnel. From the beginning, Webb’s concern for the victims was merely perfunctory. But he gave many speeches and wrote many articles vociferously defending the accused. In a 1992 article in the New York Times, he called the investigation of Tailhook a “witch hunt.” In a 1997 article he wrote for the conservative Weekly Standard, he was highly critical of what he termed “ever-expanding sexual mixing” in the military and he referred to feminist efforts to improve the status of women in the military as merely “salving the egos of a group of never-satisfied social engineers.”

In a preliminary and atypically defensive response to Kathy G. today, pro-Webb blogger Spencer Ackerman cites some examples of how Webb promoted significant if non-combat assignments for women as Secretary of the Navy. But it’s still a problematic record, particularly, as Kathy G. notes, when it comes to the impact of a Webb Veep nomination on pro-Hillary Clinton women:

[I]n practical terms, selecting Webb would be a slap in the face to the Hillary Clinton supporters. I’m not saying that Obama has to pick Hillary as veep (and indeed, I think that would be a bad idea). I’m not even saying that he needs to pick a woman.
But Hillary was the first woman to ever have a serious shot at the presidency, and she came so close. So the Hillary supporters (of whom, to be clear, I am not one) will feel frustrated enough that their candidate didn’t win. But for Obama to choose — out of all the well-qualified candidates out there — the one person who has a really awful record on gender issues would be like rubbing salt in the wound. It would be seen as a big “screw you” to Hillary’s supporters and to feminists in general.

That’s the really key argument that stands in the way of a prospective Obama-Webb ticket.
And more generally, the passionate arguments for and against Jim Webb as Veep show that rejecting the Unity Ticket won’t take Barack Obama out of the thick woods on this issue. One of the main reasons I eventually came around to Unity Ticket advocacy, despite serious misgivings, is that there’s really no obvious alternative that doesn’t raise a lot of questions as well, without the upside of a quick resolution of the nominating contest and a balm on the wounds it created. Maybe the whole subject of the vice-presidential nomination is being overrated as a factor in the general election. But no matter: among the chattering classes at least, it’s going to hang fire for quite a while.

Teixeira on Obama and the White Working Class

It’s safe to say that no subject has preoccupied political analysts over the last month or so than the relative support levels of Barack Obama among white working-class voters in the late Democratic primaries.
But in yesterday’s New York Times, John Harwood reports on a discussion with TDS Co-Editor Ruy Teixeira that places this issue in a broader and calmer perspective.

Ruy Teixeira, a Democratic analyst of voting trends, wrote the book on the core issue in the endgame of the party’s nomination fight. Its title is “America’s Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters.”
One might conclude that Mr. Teixeira is troubled by Senator Barack Obama’s performance in recent primaries against Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton among the voters known by nicknames like Joe Sixpack or Nascar Dad or Waitress Mom.
Actually, he is not.
Mr. Obama, who leads the delegate count, “is clocking in where he needs to be” with white, working-class voters to win the White House in November, Mr. Teixeira said.

What about the argument, emanating from both the Clinton campaign and from many Republicans, that her solid advantage over Obama among non-college educated white voters spells disaster for Obama in a general election?

Mr. Teixeira, who is not backing either candidate, does not buy that argument. He dismisses intraparty contests as “pretty poor evidence” of whether Mr. Obama, as the Democratic nominee, could attract the blue-collar support he would need against Senator John McCain, the presumed Republican nominee.
And how much blue-collar support would Mr. Obama need? Not a majority, said Mr. Teixeira. Though blue-collar Democrats once represented a centerpiece of the New Deal coalition, they have shrunk as a proportion of the information age-economy and as a proportion of the Democratic base.
Al Gore lost working-class white voters by 17 percentage points in 2000, even while winning the national popular vote. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts lost them by 23 points in 2004, while running within three points of President Bush over all. Mr. Teixeira suggests that Mr. Obama can win the presidency if he comes within 10 to 12 percentage points of Mr. McCain with these voters, as Democratic candidates for the House did in the 2006 midterm election.
In recent national polls, that is exactly what Mr. Obama is doing.

And that’s actually a bit comforting, given the relatively early stage of the electoral cycle, and the proximity of a big media frenzy over remarks made by Jeremiah Wright.

Mr. Teixeira argues that Mr. Obama’s standing with working-class whites may be artificially low in the wake of his skirmishing with Mrs. Clinton and the controversy over his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.
“Yes, he has a problem,” Mr. Teixeira said. “But it’s a solvable problem.”

So going by “the book”–Ruy Teixeira’s cutting-edge analysis of demographic trends in the electorate–it’s no time for panic about Obama and the White Working Class, and there’s plenty of time for the likely Democratic nominee to build a winning coalition.