Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Gas Stamps Would Be Better than a Gas Tax Holiday

May 2, 2008

Senators McCain and Clinton have both recently proposed a “Gas Tax Holiday” under which the 18.4 cent-per-gallon federal gasoline tax would be suspended this summer to help ameliorate the high costs of gasoline.  Senator Obama has rightly opposed this proposal, arguing that any reduction in gas prices (which many economists argue would not even occur) would only amount to $25-30 per driver this summer and is insufficient to really counter $4-per-gallon gas.  He and others have also argued that the tax holiday would reduce the funds available to repair our roads and bridges and encourage more driving at a time when we need to discourage driving.

Supporters of McCain and Clinton argue that Obama’s opposition to a Gas Tax Holiday shows that he is out of touch with the issues facing ordinary people, especially those with low incomes.  They imply that a savings of $30 issignificant to poor families and that Obama is too rich or detached to realize this.  I believe this is just political posturing on their part.  If the gas tax were suspended for 3 months and the savings were $30 as Obama suggests, that would be just $10 per month.  Given the amount of money some poor people spend on lottery tickets, cigarettes, and alcohol, I doubt this amount of money would really make a difference to most people.  Even if it would make a difference to some of them, it is clear that gas prices will keep going up and that working, low-income people need much more relief.  The only problem with Obama’s response to his opponents is that he has not really proposed an alternative policy to help poor people cope with the high price of gas.

Rather than pursuing a tax suspension that might not even lower the price of gasoline, a much better idea would be to create a Gas Stamps program for low-income people who own and drive cars in order to get to work.  This could be done quite easily by extending the current Food Stamps program.  I did some research about this program and learned that the phrase “food stamps” is an anachronism; in most states, actual stamps have been replaced by debit cards that are automatically replenished monthly and can be used at most grocery stores to buy food.  Gas stamps would really help poor people pay for their gas and would not stimulate gasoline consumption across all economic groups the way a Gas Tax Holiday would.  It could be funded with a sales tax on low-mileage cars and trucks which is something we should be implementing anyway to steer consumers toward higher mileage vehicles as part of a national policy to lower our consumption of gasoline and oil both for financial and environmental reasons.

An intersting fact about the Food Stamps program is that the government does not count a car owned by applicants when considering eligibility provided the car is used to commute to work or transport a disabled household member.  This means that the U.S. Food and Nutrition Service which administers the Food Stamps program already knows whether or not food stamp recipients own cars and how many they own, so the program could easily be extended to add a monthly gas stamp benefit to the existing food stamps debit card.  The only other thing needed to fully implement the program would be to allow gas stations to register with the program so that they could accept the food/gas stamps debit cards.

Senator Obama should propose a Gas Stamps program as a more realistic way of helping poor Americans deal with the high price of gasoline.  Doing so will show that he is more realistic about helping poor people bear the high price of gas and prevent Senators McCain and Clinton from claiming that he is insensitive or out of touch.  But he better propose this quickly before the primaries in Indiana or North Carolina.


Obama: a Religious Democrat

March 19, 2008

Everyone knows by now that Barack Obama gave an important speech on race yesterday in Philadelphia that was widely praised.  He spoke about the origins of racial tension in America from its roots in slavery to the modern day.  While condemning the anti-American comments of his former pastor, Reverend Wright, he also explained why older African Americans feel anger and resentment toward White America.  But he went beyond that to also talk about why White Americans, especially immigrants, often feel similar anger and resentment toward the African American community when their children are bussed to desegregated schools or they see black people get jobs through affirmative action.

I believe that an important aspect of his speech was overlooked by most analysts.  Senator Obama made it very clear that he is a religious Christian who believes in God.  He did this both by describing his 20 years as a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ and his discovery of his “Christian faith” in that Church and by proclaiming his “faith in God”.  He also quoted scripture, urging “that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper.  Let us be our sister’s keeper.”  This is important because recent Democrats who ran for President have generally spoken very little about their religious faith, especially in comparison to Republicans.  Things have been so lopsided that the Republican Party has often appeared to be the party of religious Americans.  In particular, frequent attention is given to the strong support of evangelical Christians for the Republican Party and for George W. Bush in particular.  In contrast, the Democratic Party is often portrayed as the party of the secular elite of the East and West coasts.

In fact, a very good Time Magazine article from 7/12/2007 called “How the Democrats Got Religion” indicated that the Democratic Party largely ignored religion in the 2004 race but was making efforts to reach religious voters in this election.  Speaking about John Kerry, the article stated: “When it came to religious voters, as the saying goes, he never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”  The result was that Kerry only won 17% of evangelical voters compared to Bill Clinton’s 33%.  The chairman of the DNC, Howard Dean, who had also ignored religious voters during his aborted campaign, subsequently tried to improve the party’s standing with religious voters.  He and other party officials including Nancy Pelosi began reaching out to moderate church leaders in 2005.

Obama’s speech yesterday was certainly not the first time that he has mentioned his faith in God and the importance of his religion and church to him.  In fact, other Democratic candidates including both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards have also talked about their faith and reached out to religious organizations during the past year.  But Obama’s speech appears to be the first time this election cycle that a Democrat spoke about his or her faith and religion in a major speech that received a large amount of media coverage.  While religion was not the focus of his speech, it lurked in the background throughout it since he would not have been giving this speech if he had not been a long-term member of Reverend Wright’s church.

Of course, the Republicans have never really had a monopoly on religious voters.  Most African Americans are quite religious and have strongly backed the Democratic Party in modern times.  Many other religious voters also vote for Democrats.  In fact, the Time article quoted John C. Green of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life as saying that the percentage of white Evangelicals who identify themselves Republicans had declined to 40% by July, 2007 with many Evangelicals declaring themselves Independents.  Even in 2004, the percentage was only 50%, so some Evangelicals presumably voted for Democrats in 2004 and prior elections.  The perception that the Republicans had a lock on white Evangelicals was probably exaggerated.

In any case, both parties clearly do have religious members.  If Barack Obama and the rest of the Democratic Party continue to embrace their religion and faith and argue that the liberal policies of their party are actually in conformance with Judeo-Christian ethics and teachings, they will get more support from religious voters of all races and increase their chance of winning the White House in November.

Florida and Michigan Will Not Have Revotes

March 18, 2008

During the past two days the Democratic Parties in both Florida and Michigan announced that revotes are unlikely to occur for legal and logistical reasons.  So, the only choices open to the Democratic Party at this point are the following:

  1. Do not seat any delegates from Florida and Michigan.
  2. Allow some of the delegates to be seated with full votes based on the January primaries.
  3. Allow all of the delegates to be seated with partial votes based on the January primaries.
  4. Allow all of the delegates to be seated with full votes based on the January primaries.

While option 1 (the current de facto option) would respect the DNC rules, it could hurt the chances of the Democratic nominee to win Florida and Michigan in the general election.  So, it is not really a good option for the party.  While Barack Obama’s lead would be cut with any of options 2-4, it is in his longer term interest to accept one of them in some form after negotiations with the Clinton campaign, the DNC, and the state parties.

I proposed a Plan B compromise in my prior post on this issue which was a form of option 2 above.  This is the proposed compromise I made:

  1. The DNC should refuse to reinstate any superdelegates from either state for the reasons I previously gave here.
  2. The DNC should reinstate 100% of the pledged delegates from each state that manages to hold a new primary or caucus before the June 10 deadline.  The allocation of delegates would be based on the new contests.
  3. The DNC should reinstate 50% of the pledged delegates from each state that does not hold a new contest.  The allocation of delegates would be based on the January primaries that these states held with the following modification:  in Michigan, the 40% of the vote that was “Uncommitted” would be given to Obama on the assumption that he would have gotten most or all of those votes if his name had been on the Michigan ballot.

I think this  plan is still a good option.  However, to make it more flexible as a framework for negotiating a solution between the Clinton and Obama campaigns, I would like to suggest the following modified version:

  1. The DNC should reinstate superdelegates from these states with partial votes ranging from 0% to 50% of a standard delegate vote.
  2. The DNC should reinstate 100% of the pledged delegates from each state that manages to hold a new primary or caucus before the June 10 deadline.  The allocation of delegates would be based on the new contests.
  3. The DNC should reinstate 50% of the pledged delegates from each state that does not hold a new contest.  The allocation of delegates would be based on the January primaries that these states held with the following modification:  in Michigan, the 40% of the vote that was “Uncommitted” would be given to Obama on the assumption that he would have gotten most or all of those votes if his name had been on the Michigan ballot.
  4. As far as the popular vote is concerned, all votes cast in the January primaries in these states would be fully counted if no new voting contests are held with “Uncommitted” votes in Michigan again being given to Obama.

The modified version allows the superdelegates to be seated at the convention but limits their vote, thereby imposing a direct penalty on the politicians who had the power and knowledge to avoid the rule-breaking primaries in January.  Some penalty on the superdelegates is needed in order to send a clear message to all state parties that their members will pay a personal price for breaking DNC rules in the future.  However, it is flexible enough to give both campaigns some room to negotiate.  It also fully counts each vote cast in Florida and Michigan as far as the popular vote is concerned.

I had previously estimated that Clinton would cut Obama’s pledged delegates lead by about 25 via item 3 above.  Florida has 25 superdelegates while Michigan has 28.  The modification to item 1 above adds an effective total of at most 26.5 delegate votes.  Assuming Clinton received 2/3 of these, she would get 17.5 of these votes while Obama would get 9.  This would cut Obama’s lead by an additional 8.5 delegate votes.  So, even if the superdelegates from Florida and Michigan were seated with half of their normal votes, Clinton would only cut Obama’s lead by about 33.5 delegates under my modified plan.  Given Obama’s current lead of about 142 delegates, he can probably live with this.  Clinton will obviously want more, but 33.5 is better than 0 which is all she currently has from these states.

Plan B for Florida and Michigan

March 13, 2008

I’ve written several posts in this blog advocating that Florida and Michigan should have new primaries or caucuses in the Democratic Presidential race.  Democratic leaders in both states are trying to figure out ways to do this, but an article on today suggests that legal and logistical problems might prevent this in Florida.  So, this leads me to ask what should be done if one or both states cannot hold new primaries or caucuses.

My Plan B is as follows:

  1. The DNC should refuse to reinstate any superdelegates from either state for the reasons I previously gave here.
  2. The DNC should reinstate 100% of the pledged delegates from each state that manages to hold a new primary or caucus before the June 10 deadline.  The allocation of delegates would be based on the new contests.
  3. The DNC should reinstate 50% of the pledged delegates from each state that does not hold a new contest.  The allocation of delegates would be based on the January primaries that these states held with the following modification:  in Michigan, the 40% of the vote that was “Uncommitted” would be given to Obama on the assumption that he would have gotten most or all of those votes if his name had been on the Michigan ballot.

My plan would satisfy the two principles I laid out in the post I mentioned above, namely that the DNC delegate selection rules should be respected to avoid chaos in future elections and that new contests should be held in Florida and Michigan (if possible) so that voters in those states can have influence on the nomination of the Democratic nominee.  While the DNC stripped these states of all their delegates when it punished them for scheduling early primaries that violated Rule 11.A of the DNC’s Delegate Selection Rules, Rules 20.C.1.a and 20.C.4 only mandated that the DNC strip the states of 50% of their pledged delegates and some specified superdelegates.  The DNC used the discretion it had under Rule 20.C.5 to impose a more severe penalty but presumably still has the discretion to reduce that penalty back to the mandatory penalty or some penalty in between these two extremes.

So, my plan still fully respects the DNC rules.  It also lets the voices of the voters in these states be heard.  While their votes will only count half as much as they could have, this will only happen if their states do not have new contests.  While it would be better if their votes could be counted fully, doing so based on the January primaries would simply not be fair to Senator Obama.  Even allocating 50% of the delegates based on the January primaries is unfair to him, but it is hard to conceive of any solution other than new elections that is fair.

What would the impact of my plan be on the delegate counts if neither state managed to hold new contests? I don’t know exactly how the delegates would be allocated since this would require detailed knowledge about the vote in each congressional district and the delegate allocation rules for these states.  But it is possible to calculate estimates of the pledged delegates that would be allocated based on the vote percentages reported in the original primaries.

Clinton won 49.7% of the vote in the Florida primary while Obama won 33.0%.  Allocating half of Florida’s 185 pledged delegates accordingly would give Clinton 46 delegates and Obama 31, giving her a gain of 15.

Clinton won 55.3% of the vote in the Michigan primary while “Uncommitted” won 40.0%.  Allocating half of Michigan’s 128 pledged delegates accordingly would give Clinton 35 delegates and Obama 26, giving her a gain of 10.

Clinton’s net gain in pledged delegates would therefore be approximately 25 under my plan.  Given that Obama currently has a pledged delegate lead between 150 and 160 , he can probably afford to tolerate a 25 delegate cut in his lead and might agree to do so out of the desire to let the voters in Florida and Michigan have some influence in the nomination process and to make sure they do not harbor resentment towards him in the general election (if he wins the nomination).  He might even do better under my plan than he would if new primaries are held and superdelegates from these states were counted.

Clinton would probably object to this plan since she expects to get more of the superdelegates from these states and would cut Obama’s lead in pledged delegates by 50 if the original primaries were fully counted.  But the chances of that happening are very small, so she might agree to my plan to get some delegates out of these states, especially if one or both of them are unable to schedule new primaries.  Also, even just counting the original January primaries 50% would strengthen her “Big State” argument since she could then claim to have won the legitimized primaries in both states. 

The only potential roadblock to my Plan B is giving Obama the “Uncommitted” vote from Michigan.  But if Clinton agreed to the plan, that should not be problematic.  Of course, if Michigan does hold a new primary, then this issue would disappear.

Thoughts on Combined Clinton/Obama Tickets

March 12, 2008

After the Ohio and Texas primaries and caucuses, the Clinton campaign floated the idea of a “dream ticket” that would combine Clinton and Obama and appeal to both of their constituencies.  Naturally, she felt she should be at the top of the ticket.  I think the Obama campaign was right to scorn this idea.  After all, why should the front-runner contemplate an offer from the second-place candidate to be her VP? It’s ridiculous.  In any case, it’s certainly premature.  That being said, would it make sense to talk about a Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton ticket after the Democratic presidential candidate is nominated?

As I’ve previously written in this blog, Hillary Clinton would have a hard time attracting a top-tier VP candidate since her VP will have to play second fiddle to Bill Clinton.  If she does win the Democratic nomination this year, offering the VP slot to Obama would make a lot of sense from her point of view since she would need him to help her turn out African American voters in large numbers.  But would it be a good thing for him?  Serving as Clinton’s VP for 8 years would help him build up his credentials and experience, making him an even better candidate in 2016 when he would be 54, far from too old to run for President.  However, it is likely that Hillary and Bill would completely marginalize him even more than they might some other person they convince to take the VP job; the Clintons tend to hold grudges and would not forgive him for making them fight so hard to get back in the White House.  He might take the job for the good of the Democratic Party, but I suspect that his 8 years as Clinton’s VP would be miserable.  He would probably be better off staying in the Senate for 8 years.  The only way I could see Obama accepting the VP slot would be if Hillary Clinton agreed to only serve 1 term and endorse and support him for President in 2012.  4 years of misery would be preferable to 8.

What if Obama wins the nomination? Would it make sense for him to offer her the VP job and for her to accept it?  I don’t think it would.  While having her on his ticket might help him with white women, Latinos, and other Clinton supporters, he could probably find another VP who would also appeal to these constituencies.  For instance, Bill Richardson would help Obama attract Latino voters and would add more foreign policy experience to his ticket than Hillary would.  Furthermore, picking Clinton might undermine his change agenda since the Republicans would claim that the Obama-Clinton team would just be an extension of the Bill Clinton Presidency.  Even if Obama did offer her the VP job, I don’t think she would want or enjoy it.  She would be extremely frustrated with the number 2 job when she had expected and felt entitled to the top job.  Furthermore, after 8 more years, she would be 68; not too old to run, but not young either.  She apparently does like serving in the Senate and would probably be happier staying there.  Alternatively, she has the opportunity to run for Governor of New York now that Eliot Spitzer has resigned.

Whichever one of them wins the nomination would probably be better off selecting someone else as their VP running mate.  While it might help reunite the Democratic Party if the winner offers the job to the loser, the latter would be smart to politely reject the offer while committing their support to the winner and encouraging their supporters to do the same.

Clinton’s Chances of Overtaking Obama Now Smaller

March 11, 2008

After the March 4th primaries, I wrote a blog post asking whether Clinton could possibly overtake Obama in the race for pledged delegates.  I pointed out that her chances of doing this were poor even if Florida and Michigan have new primaries or caucuses.  I wanted to give an update of that analysis after tonight’s Mississippi primary which Obama won.

CNN finally posted estimated delegate counts for the Texas caucus from last Tuesday. Their estimates match the ones I gave in my prior post: 38 for Obama and 29 for Clinton. The combined results of the Texas primary and caucus were: Obama: 99, Clinton: 94. So, Obama won Texas as far as delegates were concerned.  Clinton did win the March 4th contests as a group, cutting Obama’s pledged delegates lead by 6.  However, Obama increased his lead by 2 on Saturday in Wyoming and by 7 in tonight’s Mississippi primary.

Despite all the talk about Clinton’s resurgence, Obama has actually increased his pledged delegate lead by 3 since the Wisconsin primary. That might not sound like much, but it is significant because there are now 415 fewer pledged delegates left to be divided than there were on February 19. In fact, there are now only 566 pledged delegates (not counting Michigan and Florida) in future contests and Obama currently holds a lead of 162 pledged delegates (using CNN’s numbers on March 11th).  Clinton now has to win 364 of the remaining pledged delegates in order to catch up to him. That represents 64.3% of the remaining pledged delegates.  If Michigan and Florida do have new contests, then there will be a total of 879 pledged delegates remaining.  In that case, Clinton would have to win 521 of the remaining delegates or 59.2% of them.  Either way, she now has to win a higher percentage of the remaining delegates than she did 1 week ago.

The primaries are like a marathon. Clinton is approximately the same distance behind Obama at the 22 mile mark as she was at the 20 mile mark. With only 4 miles left to run, her chances of winning are now smaller than before.

Mississippi Exit Polls

March 11, 2008

Here are some results from the Mississippi exit polls from today’s primary:

Let’s start with results based on race and gender:

     White voters (49% of those polled): 72% Clinton, 27% Obama
     Black voters (49% of those polled): 9% Clinton, 91% Obama
     Male voters: 39% Clinton, 61% Obama
     Female voters: 42% Clinton, 57% Obama
     White men favored Clinton 70% to 30%.
     White women favored Clinton 75% to 24%

So, while Obama beat Clinton amongst both male and female voters when race was not included, he lost amongst white men and women. So, he essentially won Mississippi based on support from black men and women.

Obama won 58-60% of the vote from those voters polled regardless of their education level.

A contrast to other states was that less affluent voters supported Obama while those making $75,000 or more supported Clinton (although just barely).  It is possible that there is correlation between income and race that could account for this.

Obama won all age groups except those voters over 65.

Top Candidate Quality:

     53% Can Bring Change
     19% Experience
     16% Cares About People
       9% Electability

It seems that campaign ads were important to many of Obama’s voters.  It is unclear from the exit poll whether these voters were positively influenced by Obama ads or negatively influenced by Clinton ads. 

     Campaign Ads Important: Clinton 35%, Obama 64%
     Campaign Ads Not Important: Clinton 61%, Obama 38%

More voters though Obama is honest than Clinton: 

     Is Obama Honest? 70% Yes, 29% No
     Is Clinton Honest? 51% Yes, 48% No

More voters polled thought that Obama was more qualified to be Command In Chief.

     Obama More Qualified: 54%
     Clinton More Qualified: 43%

Another interesting statistic is that voters who had a favorable view of John McCain tended to favor Clinton over Obama suggesting either that these voters are more focused on experience as measured by years spent in Washington or feel that Clinton and McCain are closer together on issues of national security and Iraq.  In any case, this suggests that (in Mississippi) that Obama offers stronger contrast to McCain than Clinton.

Democrats (70% of those polled) favored Obama 67% to 32%.
Republicans (13% of those polled) favored Clinton 77% to 23%.
Independents (17% of those polled) favored Obama 51% to 48%.

Voters who made up their minds in the last 3 days favored Clinton 54% to 44%.   Other voters favored Obama 61% to 39%.

Clinton’s Foreign Policy Experience Debunked

March 11, 2008

Greg Craig wrote a great article for Real Clear Politics that debunks her claims to have accumulated extensive foreign policy experience, especially during her years as First Lady.  It is well worth reading.  Craig is the former director of the Policy Planning Office in the U.S. State Department, so seems well-positioned to evaluate her claims.

Superdelegates: Obama: +46, Clinton: -6

March 11, 2008

MSNBC has been tracking the number of superdelegates that Senators Obama and Clinton have gained or lost since Super Tuesday.  This afternoon, Norah O’Donnell of MSNBC reported that Obama has gained 46 superdelegates while Clinton has lost 6.

No wonder Clinton’s campaign is attacking Obama so ruthlessly and trying to undermine his candidacy.

Comments on Corzine/Rendell Op-Ed Column

March 11, 2008

Apparently, even some of our Democratic governors don’t fully understand the DNC delegate selection rules and are not very good at math.  In an Op-Ed column in today’s Washington Post, Governors Jon Corzine and Edward Rendell write that neither Obama nor Clinton is likely to win 2,025 pledged delegates by the end of the primaries and warn about the downside of having the nomination decided by superdelegates.  “But allowing superdelegates to determine the outcome of our nominating process while 366 pledged delegates, elected by more than 2 million democrats in Michigan and Florida, remain unseated is especially undemocratic.”  Their first mistake is that these two states have a total of 366 delegates (210 from Florida and 156 from Michigan) including both pledged delegates and superdelegates.  The actual number of pledged delegates from these states is 313 (185 from Florida and 128 from Michigan).

They then suggest that having revotes in Florida and Michigan could avoid reliance on the superdelegates: “Fortunately, we do have another, more democratic choice: We can choose to enfranchise Democrats in Florida and Michigan, thereby increasing the likelihood that voters, not politicians or party elders, will determine who faces Sen. John McCain in the fall.” The governors also voice their support for the principles that all voters should be able to participate in the nomination process and that all nominating contests must be fair.

As I indicated in a prior post, the total number of delegates needed to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for President will increase from 2,025 to 2,208 if delegates from Florida and Michigan are reinstated.  There are good reasons for having new primaries in Florida and Michigan (which I have advocated here and here), but making it more likely that one of the candidates can clinch the nomination without superdelegates is not one of them.  The bottom line is that neither candidate is likely to clinch the nomination with pledged delegates alone since the DNC rules allocate delegates from all states proportionally and Clinton and Obama will share the remaining pledged delegates.  For the math on this, see this post.

Corzine and Rendell are right in advocating new primaries in Florida and Michigan, but they should have checked their facts more carefully.  Instead of advocating new primaries as a way of avoiding the nomination being decided by the superdelegates, they should have argued the issue solely on the principles that voters in all states should have a voice in nominating the party’s candidate and that only fair elections should count.