In today's Atlanta Journal Constitution, Army spouse Elisabeth Kadlec writes:
When we married our spouses, I am sure that none of us were signing up to be single parents. But in essence that is what we become. Many people I know, like my husband, have already been deployed more than three times, and will go again. Most of these deployments are to Iraq or Afghanistan. It always amazes me when people ask me if my husband has to go back. I even laugh at this question!
I think it shows that the public has no idea how many troops make up the armed forces and how many are deployed at a time. Somehow, that message has been lost when we talk about the war. I am pretty much resolved that my husband will be deployed almost every other year. You can only imagine what this does to a family, and how important it is to us that smart decisions are being made for military members.
I don't know Ms. Kadlec, but I sure do know a hell of a lot of people like her - enough to know that she is far from the only military spouse who will be voting Obama this year. She understands, as does every member of every Army family, that the current deployment tempo cannot go on forever, or even for much longer, without causing long-term damage to the army as a whole.
In other news, updates here will be fewer and farther between than normal this week. I'll be spending most of my free time working at the Obama campaign's Pensacola office.
It's been a couple of days since I posted on the New Hampshire recount. At the time, I fully expected that I wouldn't do another post on the topic, but a couple of things that have happened since then changed my mind. First, Scibling Chris Chatham included me in a list of people who he thinks should get off their "soapboxes", stop "hurting America", and focus on the statistical anomaly he's identified. Second, and far more importantly, preliminary recount results are in from a number of precincts.
First, let's look at this "Diebold Effect" thing again. When I took my first look at the results, I decided that a detailed statistical analysis would not be appropriate, and I stand by that. My decision to avoid the potential pitfalls of an inappropriate statistical analysis is not merely because I "assume" that demographic factors don't always explain all of an election result, but because I think that there's a factor that should explain at least some of the results, but which isn't included in analyses that focus on the demographics: campaign effort. We do not have data about where the campaigns chose to focus their efforts during the period between Obama's win in Iowa and the New Hampshire primary.
In fairness to Chris, he did attempt to take this into account after I pointed this out the first time. He found a list of Clinton campaign offices, included their presence as a variable in his analysis, and found that the "Diebold Effect" was still significant. Unfortunately, I don't think that the variable he used as a proxy for campaign effort was remotely adequate. The presence of a campaign office might reflect decisions about where to focus effort that were made early in the campaign, but it's unlikely to reflect last-minute decisions about where to focus effort. (For example, did the campaign shift volunteers from office to office?)
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In the week since the New Hampshire voting, a number of people have become increasingly concerned about some of the things that they've seen in the results. Two things, in particular, have gotten a lot of attention. The first is the difference between the pre-election polling, which had Obama ahead by a considerable margin, and the final result, which was a clear victory for Clinton. The second is a difference in outcome when hand-counted precincts are compared to precincts where the ballots were counted using machines. Obama came out ahead in the hand-count areas, while Clinton came out ahead in the machine-counted regions.
Some people are concerned enough about this that they want to see a recount, and it looks like there will be at least a partial one. Dennis Kucinich came up with a little under half the money needed for a full statewide recount of Democratic ballots, and the state has agreed to count until his money runs out. I expect that they'll find some differences between the machine totals and the hand-count (it would be shocking if there was 100% accuracy), but I'd be surprised if there's a large difference, and even more shocked if the discrepancies between machine and hand tallies systematically favor one candidate.
Clinton did receive a much greater percentage of the vote in machine-counted precincts than she did in the hand-counted areas, but I think there's a single factor that can explain most (but not all) of the difference. Imagine that you are running a statewide campaign. Wining the state is very, very important to you, and with less than a week to go before the election, you are running way behind in the polls. Where do you focus your effort and resources in the time you have left?
When asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton famously replied, "because that's where the money is." If you are behind in the polls and want to win an election, you're going to focus your efforts (if you're smart) where the votes are.
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As the dust settles in New Hampshire, people are starting to talk about the winners and losers, and what it all means in the grand scheme of the election. Some are looking for excuses reasons why Obama didn't actually pull off a win when every poll conducted in the known universe last week said he would. Others are discussing the critically important question of whether the whole "tears" thing helped or hurt Clinton, and whether the emotions were real or fake. Then there's the pressing question of whether Fred Thompson's arrival in South Carolina was a calculated political decision, or if it just means that there's more than one thing he can't find with both hands and a map.
Ultimately, there were two very clear winners and one clear loser in New Hampshire - not counting the candidates.
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Today's Wall Street Journal has a page A1 article (and accompanying blog post) about John Edward's decision to invoke the Nataline Sarkisyan case in his campaign-trail discussions of health care. Sarkisyan, you may remember, was the 17-year-old California girl who died a few weeks ago, shortly after her family's insurance company turned down her doctors' request that they cover a liver transplant for her. The tone of the article is somewhat negative toward Edwards' decision, and not all of their criticism is entirely unfair.
Edwards, they claim, "has been bashing big health insurers in recent days with the [Sarkisyan] story ... but ... may be oversimplifying the tale." In truth, the Journal is almost certainly right. Sarkisyan's case was very complex. The transplant was very risky. According to her doctors, the transplant would give her a 65% chance of surviving for another six months, and even if the transplant was a complete success, there would still be the problem of the underlying leukemia to deal with. It's entirely possible (if not probable) that the chief medical officer for the insurer is correct when he says that, "It is highly unlikely that any health-care insurance system, nationally or internationally, would have covered this procedure."
Despite all that, Edwards is absolutely right to put this case front and center in the debate over health care policy in this coverage. There may be a great deal of room for debate over the details, but the undisputed facts of the case illustrate both some of the key problems with our health care system and the complete and utter fallacy of one of the primary sound bites used by the politicians who oppose any significant health care reform.
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Several days ago, Senator (and longshot Presidential candidate) Christopher Dodd (D-CT) made some news by promising to do whatever he could to block any legislation that would retroactively grant immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with President Bush's warrentless wiretapping program. He started off by placing a hold on the bill - a procedural move that would normally block the legislation from being voted on. After hearing that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to move the bill to the floor despite the hold, Dodd is now promising to go to the floor of the Senate and filibuster the bill if necessary.
That was late last week. Until yesterday, the only thing heard on this issue from the Clinton and Obama campaigns was the chirp of crickets. Yesterday, five days after Dodd's announcement (a period of time that bears an uncanny resemblance to the time needed to conduct focus groups or polls on the issue), the two camps both released statements outlining their candidate's position on the bill and the threatened filibuster.
From the Obama campaign:
"Senator Obama has serious concerns about many provisions in this bill, especially the provision on giving retroactive immunity to the telephone companies. He is hopeful that this bill can be improved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. But if the bill comes to the Senate floor in its current form, he would support a filibuster of it."
From Clinton, in response to a question at a press availability:
"I am troubled by the concerns that have been raised by the recent legislation reported out of the Intelligence Committee. I haven't seen it so I can't express an opinion about it. But I don't trust the Bush Administration with our civil rights and liberties. So I'm going to study it very hard. As matters stand now, I could not support it and I would support a filibuster absent additional information coming forward that would convince me differently."
Personally, I liked the chirping crickets better. They've got more character than either statement - or, for that matter, than both combined. I don't think they could have come up with anything more milquetoasty if they tried - and they probably did. Their "support" for the filibuster is so lukewarm it's at room temperature.
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Here are a few numbers from the latest Reuters-Zogby poll. See if you can find the one that's not like the others:
Rated President Bush's performance as excellent or good: 25%
Rated Congress' performance as excellent or good: 11%
Said the U.S. is heading in the right direction: 26%
Rated the performance of U.S. foreign policy excellent or good: 18%
Rated the performance of U.S. economic policy excellent or good: 26%
Said they were very or fairly proud of the U.S.: 88%
Those numbers remind me of a bit from Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment:
"...you might not like everything about your country, eh? It might not be the perfect place, but it's ours. You might not think we've got the best laws, but they're ours. The mountains might not be the prettiest ones or the tallest ones, but they're ours. We're fighting for what's ours, men!"
After about an hour, when rain was drumming on the canvas, Carborundum said: "Okay, den, I fink I've worked it out. If people are groophar stupid, then we'll fight for groophar stupidity, 'cos it's our stupidity. And dat's good, yeah?"
Several of the squad sat up in the darkness, amazed at this.
"I realize I ought to know these things, but what does groophar mean?" said the voice of Maladict in the damp darkness.
"Ah, well . . . when, right, a daddy troll an' a mummy troll --"
"Good, right, yes, I think I've got it, thank you," said Maladict. "And what you've got there, my friend, is patriotism. My country, right or wrong."
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It looks like Nancy Pelosi might be getting just a wee bit frustrated with the Democratic base. It also looks like she's got a lack of understanding of the proper relationship between politicians and the people that sorely needs correcting. At a recent press lunch sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, she said this:
Activists who want to target congressional Democrats for lack of action on the war are misguided, the speaker argued. "I think it is a waste of time for them to go after Democratic members. They ought to just persuade Republican members who are representing areas that are opposed to the war," she said. "We said we would change the debate; we would fight to end the war. We never said we had the veto pen or the signature pen."
According to the Washington Post, she also said something about the difference between her role and the role of the base - at least as she sees it:
"They are advocates," she said. "We are leaders."
That is true, I suppose. Pelosi, Hoyer, Reid, and the rest of their gang are the leaders in Congress. Unfortunately, there's a big difference between being designated as a "leader" and leading. One requires determination, effort, and action. The other requires nothing more than the occupation of space and the consumption of time.
Every time I read articles (like this one, this one, this one or this one) that talk about how the Democrats are having problems getting the 60 votes in the Senate that they need to move Iraq legislation forward, or how they won't be able to get the 2/3rds of both houses that they need to beat a veto, I get angrier. And not with the Republicans who are standing in the way.
The Democrats don't need more than a majority. The President can't spend money unless Congress lets him spend money. If Congress passes a spending bill and he vetoes it, he can't spend money. If Congress fails to pass a spending bill at all, he can't spend money. All the Democrats need to do is stand their ground and refuse to pass any spending bill that doesn't require a firm timetable. That's all that they need to do.
The problem that we've got isn't overcoming Republican resistance. It's the spine of the Democratic leadership. They don't have one. They don't even have shells. I'd call them jellyfish, but even jellyfish can inflict a painful sting. No, we're talking sea cucumbers here - they've got no hard support, and if you stress one too much it reacts by expelling its internal organs all over you.
We've got to stop letting them slide. They're in the majority now, and that means that they shouldn't be able to get off the hook by claiming to be impotent in the face of the big bad Republicans. They've got the support of the public. They need to act like it if they want to retain it.
Once again, John "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" McCain went and said something stupid at a campaign stop. And, once again, he got caught on video doing it. This time, he went just slightly overboard in his criticism of the now-infamous MoveOn.org "General Betray-us" ad. Holding a blown-up, laminated copy of the ad, McCain said:
"It's disgraceful, it's got to be retracted and condemned by the Democrats and MoveOn.org ought to be thrown out of this country, my friends."
(And if you don't believe Time Magazine, CBS has the video footage.)
Unlike the "Bomb Iran" incident, this wasn't an off-the-cuff response to a question. The Senator was holding a prop and delivering a message. It's probably not a message that what's left of his campaign staff wanted him to deliver, and it probably has most of them surreptitiously updating their resumes this morning, but it was clearly the message that he meant to convey. That makes the non-denial denial his campaign issued somewhat less than convincing:
"Senator McCain, like most Americans, is appalled by the MoveOn.org ad. Last night he expressed his outrage in words that did not convey his intended meaning. What he meant to say was that MoveOn's smear of General Petraeus' character should have no place in the American political debate."
There's a big difference between saying that a particular statement has no place in the American political debate and saying that those who made the statement have no place in America. McCain's comment runs counter to the fundamental principles that our nation is supposed to cherish. My outrage, though, is tempered a bit by pity. McCain jumped the shark so long ago that he can't see it from where he is now. The man really needs to get out of the campaign - if not politics altogether - while he still has a few remaining shreds of dignity.
(Hat tip: Dispatches)