Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Keeping Up with Clinton Spin

Some great stuff from James Forman:
When I was a law clerk a group of us had a game to see who could come up with the most outrageously absurd distinctions-without-a-difference that Justice Rehnquist would use to deal with precedents that he didn't like.  I vaguely remember that the winner for the year was discovered by a (very conservative) clerk who came across something like "that was a case involving trains" (when trains had nothing to do with the outcome).

Today's read has convinced me that a similar game is necessary to keep up with the Clinton reactions to election defeats. 

For background, the game begins with Bill Clinton's now infamous explanation of Obama's win in South Carolina. 
On Saturday, as Sen. Barack Obama was sweeping up the South Carolina primary, former Pres. Bill Clinton was busy downplaying the significance of Obama's impending win, casting it as a function of the state's demographics and the Illinois senator's heavy African American support. "Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in '84 and '88," Clinton said at a rally in Columbia." Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here."
So it's a black thing.

Then after winning (by popular vote if not by delegates) the Nevada caucuses Clinton said:
"I just want to say how grateful I am to Nevada, and to all the people who worked in this campaign.  I guess this is how the West was won," Clinton told cheering supporters in Las Vegas.  Video posted on washingtonpost.com, Jan. 20, 2008 . 

Ok, caucus victories matter and are worth celebrating.

But then we get a string of caucus blowouts in mostly white states.  Which produces this from Hillary, as reported by Dana Milbank, Washington Post, Feb. 12, 2008 (I'm not always a big fan of Milbank, but am using him here for the references, not for his argument):

Glenn Thrush of Newsday got the last question, and it was a rough one. "It's not just the string of losses that you've had, it's the magnitude," he said. "You got your doors blown off. . . . Does it surprise you that you've lost these states by as much as you have?"

"No," the candidate answered. "These are caucus states. They are primarily dominated by activists. They don't represent the electorate."

OK, so caucuses matter in Nevada, but not elsewhere, even when they don't involve black people.

But that answer can't explain the whole weekend, because then it was pointed out that she lost Louisiana too, not a caucus state.  In response we get this, per Milbank:

She also attributed her poor results in Louisiana to "a very strong and very proud African American electorate."

Ah the race thing again.  I'm feeling so proud, and strong.  We'll leave clean and articulate out of it for now.

On one level this isn't funny.  Clinton is 1) factually wrong and 2) short-sighted to dismiss the caucus goers as unrepresentative "activists."  I've spoken to friends in the caucus states, and to a person they have never caucused before.  They aren't activists.  They went this year because they were inspired by a candidate.  But more than wrong, she is short-sighted because if she wins she will need those same caucus goers to support her in November.  Calling them unrepresentative activists is not a good way to start the wooing.

Feel free to help me add to the list as we go forward.



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