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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

January 7, 2008



During the Pittsburgh-Jacksonville NFL playoff game, Al Michaels cracked a "joke" that was truly disgusting. The Pittsburgh coach, Mike Tomlin, was playing continuously a tape of a prior game to motivate his team.. Michaels, a Bush supporter, remarked:

"Some of those guys would have rather been water-boarded than seen that tape again." Madden and Michaels snicker.

I find this remark to be indicative of the moral abyss our nation sunk into.

Mr. Madden and Mr. Michaels, there is nothing amusing about torture.

-Robert Scardapane

On to The Granite State!

Now that I've done such a bang-up job on my Iowa predictions (What? Didn't Edwards and McCain win?), I figured I'd try my hands in predicting the New Hampshire primaries.

(Somebody stop me, please!)

On the Democrats' side, there can be no doubt that Senator Barack Obama has the momentum. He DID what Democratic candidates have been trying to do each and every election since they became the Party of the Young'n in 1960 - he got out the youth vote (let's call it GoTYV - sounds a bit eastern European, doesn't it?). This forces me to conclude that his organization is not only well put together, but they're prepared for the long run. Although Senator Hillary Clinton had been running as the de-facto nominee until her Ralph Cramden imitation during one of the numerous debates (she was for Drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants before she was against it), Obama now has the ability to raise the dough that a front-runner, or at least a co-front-runner, should be able to raise.

The thing about Hillary is that she already has that money and doesn't appear to be hampered in her ability to raise even more (thank you, Bill). And if money is what makes the Presidential primary go 'round, then her demise, no mater how often and the likes of Fox News Channel, the New York Post, Rush Limbaugh, etc., tell us her fifteen minutes are up, Mrs. Clinton is right in the middle of this horse race and she's riding on a gold-clad saddle.

Which brings us to former Senator John Edwards, the guy who I just made a donation to. Edwards, even in Iowa, is considered the best candidate to beat a Republican in November. Unfortunately, for my personal favorite choice for the Oval Office, that issue was way down on the list of priorities for Iowa's Democratic caucus goers. It turns out that Edwards was the second choice of many of those who voted for the "not-viable" candidates. It's just too bad that he was probably also the second choice of Barack Obama's minions as well. One has to wonder what Iowa's caucuses would have looked like had they been Obama-free.

Edwards has already been declared as "done" by the likes of Bill "I'd bet a million dollars on that" Bennett, who appeared as a CNN expert on caucus night. In fact, even as the night opened with no one yet casting a shout out for any candidate on the Democratic side, CNN and MSNBC both sounded the death-knell for Edwards. The early returns came in with the former North Carolina Senator in the lead and not a mention was made of his start. Even at the end, with Edwards squeaking out a second place finish ahead of Senator Clinton, the only words that were said were those by Bennett and echoed by the others - "It's over! The reason they wish Edwards would go away appears to be that they simply are more afraid of him than either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama. Edwards might have other ideas, but one cannot look past the fact that he is running behind the Obama and Clinton all over the country and needs to get some funds together in order to give himself a chance. And although he did finish ahead of Senator Clinton (just barely), he has some catching up to do. What I did notice about Edwards was his ability to win in the rural areas of the state. Perhaps voters should think about that before casting their ballots in the other 49.

In the end, my belief is that Senator Clinton will win New Hampshire, but Senator Obama's GoTYV will turn out some more lever-puller for his campaign. Edwards will, unfortunately, finish third and, hopefully, not double-digits behind the winner. He will stay viable enough to remain in the race. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, keeping his name in the race as the horse without a chance, And if the three go into the Democratic National Convention with a percentage of the delegates split at a 40-30-20-10 rate (Obama/ Clinton - Clinton/ Obama - Edwards - and the rest), then anything could happen, including an Al Gore sighting.

Now wouldn't THAT be fun?

The Republicans are another story. The Righties in Iowa spoke up clearly for the plain-speaking man with a quick wit and a base that should earn him the devotion of more than the 78 percent of those in the 23 percent of Americans who call "morality" their number one issue (that group voted at 78 percent for President Bush in 2004 and made up 23 percent of the electorate). However, in the general election, if he somehow gets there, that 17 percent (or so) of the vote will only get him so far. I can't imagine anyone who describes themselves as a Democrat, even the most "moderate" of Democrats, voting for Governor Mike Huckabee. Those Reagan Democrats don't have a Jimmy Carter to push out of the way this time.

McCain should win New Hampshire going away (a sports term meaning that if he had more time, the lead would be even larger). Although Romney will take second place, it will be by a far greater margin than even those on the big business front - his most fervent supporters - will feel comfortable with. In short, after what will be two bad showings, his star has fallen. Governor Huckabee and former New York City Mayor (and the most shameless self-promoter in recent history) Rudy Giuliani should come in neck and neck for the GOP bronze medal with the former edging out the latter. Rudy's "three words - a verb, a noun and 911" as suggested by Senator Joseph Biden, won't get him past those Down-to-Earth Granite Staters (most probably the reason he didn't campaign there). Rep. Ron Paul will come in a "strong" fifth with his young Libertarian "It's my money" followers and Fred Thompson will remain a joke in last place. (He would remain a joke even if he came in higher.)

Take my pics for what they are - MY pics, and don't go off placing any bets on my say-so. The money you save will be your own.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2008 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

The Pennsylvania presidential primary will be held on April 22nd this year. But by that date, all the decisions on who will be the presidential nominee from either party will have been made. The presidential nominees will be set by Super-Super Tuesday on February 5th. Thus, once again, Pennsylvania voters–the sixth largest demographic in the country–will be disenfranchised by the ludicrously outdated, outmoded, and in the case of the caucuses, just plain crazy primary system in America.

Every four years, generally right after the Iowa caucus proves how nutty the system is yet again by choosing the outright worst or just “safest” candidates from both parties, the discussion comes up again about reforming the primary system.

But nothing gets done, no changes are made and at least half of all Americans are disenfranchised from the primary system for another four years.

Iowa renewed my anger at the system. There’s no real vote tally in Iowa. There’s the final vote, but not the “raw” vote–the first choices or second or third choices. Just the final choices. So we never get to know, for example, how many people actually voted for a Joe Biden or Chris Dodd or Dennis Kucinich. We won’t ever know how many people cast their second votes for the top three Democrats, but not their first.

Some call it a rigged system that benefits the better-known candidates and basically removes anyone who doesn’t have outstanding numbers from the next primaries. I agree.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think both Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee are really nice guys. I’ve seen Obama on Oprah, I’ve read his books and those who have read this column for years know how impressed I was with him at the 2004 Democratic Convention.

I’ve seen Huckabee on several talk shows, including Jay Leno the night before Iowa and Craig Ferguson the night after. He’s really funny and down to earth.

But likeability is not the sole criteria for being president.

Back in 2000 and 2004, Americans based their votes on who would be more “likeable,” rather than on who would better run the country. As a consequence we didn’t get the “wooden” Al Gore–now a Nobel Prize winner–nor the “cold” John Kerry, a Vietnam war hero.

What we got instead was “likeable” George W. Bush and two wars we are losing–Afghanistan and Iraq–and one or more possibly on the horizon–Pakistan and Iran.

Call me radical, crazy or both, but I don’t think we should choose our presidents at a glorified Tupperware party. And that is what the Iowa caucus is and always has been, even before there was Tupperware.

I’ve seen the caucus set-up first hand as a reporter and I have also tried to explain it to people. Even Iowans have a hard time explaining it, because it’s a little like a child’s game run amok.

Here’s how it’s done: a bunch of people come over to Sam’s house or Mary’s house. They all have different candidates they support. They sit around and talk about who they like and why. Then they go to different corners of the room and “stand” for their candidate (hence Obama’s slogan “stand for change”).

The chair or host of the particular caucus then takes a vote.

The candidates who get under 15 percent or so–because the chair can make the percentage higher if he or she wishes–lose. (And you hope you’ve got even numbers in your house, believe me, because evening out the percentages can be complicated.)

Those delegates who lost their candidate can either make a second choice, or go home. (Going home is seen as bad sportsmanship, which is not a good thing in Iowa, so there’s a lot of second choice votes.)

Then there’s more caucusing until every candidate has at least 15 percent of the room.

The process–from when everyone finally shows up to the final vote tally–takes hours.

Then the votes are tallied by Sam or Mary and those tallied votes are called in to a main phone number and recorded.

And that’s how Iowans choose the presidential nominees for the rest of the country. Through what amounts to an extended game of rock, paper, scissors.
In case you were wondering where Iowa ranks demographically and why it gets to choose presidents for the country, it is the 31st most populous state. *Thirty-first.* Yet it basically sets the tone of the entire primary season for the country. And Iowa gets to be first because it says so. Tradition. No other reason.

As an American citizen who has never missed an election and even flew back from foreign countries to vote on more than one occasion, I really object to being disenfranchised by...Iowa. Although I doubt I’d be any happier with being disenfranchised by California, the most populous state.

In 2004 my candidate, as readers of this column know, was Howard Dean.

Dean was viewed as the front-runner for months prior to Iowa and got all the scrutiny a front-runner generally gets. No one else got scrutinized to the degree Dean did. Not before the nominee was chosen.

But although he was the front-runner and invented internet fundraising, Iowans didn’t cast their final caucus votes for Dean. They voted for what Iowans said was the “electable” Democratic candidate who had till then been fifth in the polls–John Kerry. New Hampshire, which ranks 42nd in demographic, has the second primary and they agreed to go with the “electable” candidate as well. After the third primary, Kerry was the nominee. No more Dean.

A year ago, Hillary Clinton moved into the Dean position of Democratic front-runner. She was vetted in every venue. Every aspect of her candidacy from her platforms to her votes in the Senate to her breasts and even her laugh was critiqued. About 80 percent of what was written on Clinton was not true, but there was no critique of the critique except in online news sources. Most Americans don’t read much and are ill-informed on the issues, so the nightly TV news is where they get their information.

There was no critique of Clinton’s closest opponents, Barack Obama and John Edwards, except some silly comments about an expensive haircut Edwards got.
About six months ago, the mainstream media–TV, magazines, and so forth–began to present Barack Obama as the “electable” candidate. The networks took poll after poll to “prove” their point. Edwards, they noted, was spending too much time in Iowa and had “gone negative” because he was critiquing not just Obama, but also the American political system and corporate America. Edwards was not, they noted, electable, in part because he had lost to Kerry in 2004 and in part because his message was, as some noted “divisive.”

But Edwards was down in third place and Clinton remained in first, so the attacks on Clinton’s “electability” began.

TV networks focused on Obama, even as Clinton remained the front-runner, spending 17 minutes of airtime on him for every minute on Clinton. ABC–the Oprah network–was the most egregiously obvious of the networks in their fawning over the “electable” candidate.

Yet despite all the air time devoted to Obama, none was investigative. There was no mention of his failure to vote on key issues in the Senate, no mention of his voting for pro-war initiatives while claiming to be anti-war. No mention of the fact that he was taking eight times as much corporate money as Clinton, even as he decried her taking it. No criticism of his involvement with a vehemently anti-gay gospel singer to attempt to boost his credentials with black conservatives. No mention of his history in the Illinois legislature where he also had a record of abstaining from the hard votes. No mention of the fact that he’s chaired a Senate foreign relations committee for a year and never held a single meeting. Obama spent a lot of time in the past few months blaming the Democrats for 2000 and 2004, sounding much more like a Republican, than a Democrat.

Yet months went by, the attention of the media increased but-still no vetting of Obama, no critique of his comments or his methods or his lack of platform beyond his assertions that his cabinet would be half Democrats and half Republicans and thus he was “not divisive.”

Then came Iowa on January 3rd and in a record turnout, Obama got 37 percent of the vote, Edwards 29.7 percent and Clinton 29.3 percent.

Within minutes of the final tally, the networks were touting the demise of Hillary Clinton as a candidate and ignoring Edwards altogether. The spin was that Obama had brought together non-voters and independents. The implication was that no other candidate did so. Yet how exactly did the media evaluate this, given how the Iowa caucus involved multiple choices by voters before the final tally?

So–Obama was touted as “unstoppable” with 49 primaries left to go even as national polls continued to show Hillary Clinton in the lead with just over 50 percent of voters, although Obama had tightened the gap between them.

The Republicans were treated somewhat more fairly by the media, but with different inaccuracies. Mike Huckabee won Iowa with 34 percent, Mitt Romney, who spent $7 million of his own money there, got second place at 26 percent and Fred Thompson and John McCain were basically tied (like Edwards and Clinton) at 13.2 and 12.9 percent.

The press reported that McCain had pulled himself back into the race at the same time it touted Clinton as “barely hanging in there.”

There were 218,000 Democratic votes, which means Clinton received about 71,000 votes. There were 93,000 Republican voters, which means McCain received about 9,000 votes. Yet the press reported Clinton on her way out, McCain as surging and Edwards no longer counting at all.

By whose standards?

The staggered caucus and primary system cheats most of us from being true participants in the process of choosing candidates. The press exacerbates that cheating of the voters by talking down some candidates and talking up others, based on their own biases: Hence the upgrading of John McCain’s 9,000 votes while downgrading Clinton’s 71,000 and the ignoring of Edwards’ 72,000.

In a recent conversation, an African-American friend of mine in Baltimore was complaining about the disenfranchisement of African-American voters in 2000 in Florida. He’s still angry about it eight years later, as well he–and every other American–should be. But the Florida debacle only disenfranchised several thousand people. And not to minimize the import of that, but every four years about 180 million Americans are disenfranchised by the Iowa stranglehold on the nation’s primary.

Where’s the outrage over that?

The media plays a large role in this by over-emphasizing the importance of Iowa. Instead of sending third-string reporters to Iowa, they send network anchors. Instead of contextualizing Iowa–the 31st most populous state–they talk about it as if it were not only representative of the nation (it isn’t) but as if it speaks for the entire nation (it doesn’t). Pundits talk about how the candidates rank in Iowa as if every other voter in the country will cast the same votes as Iowans or as if those other votes don’t matter.

In talking down some candidates and talking up others, they influence prospective voters in subsequent primary states. Dean asserted in 2004 that the negative tone the press set about his third-place finish in Iowa lost him New Hampshire. Historians agree.

I wasn’t going to vote for Biden or Dodd, but I liked having them in the contest. I felt that their combined experience–more than 40 years in politics–added to the debate. I have long felt that Edwards addresses important domestic issues, instead of focusing all his attention on foreign relations. Even though the press has already written his demise, I hope he is able to stay in the race; he forces the other candidates to address those issues as well. Bill Richardson has been totally ignored by the media, but he’s hanging in as well. And Hillary Clinton is still the strong candidate she was before Iowa.

The presidency is our most important public office. That so many Americans are cheated of the opportunity to choose from the entire slate of candidates is an outrage. The outmoded caucus and primary system must be changed. The race for president should be a real race for all Americans, not a one-in-50 shot at voting. Iowa doesn’t speak for me or you. It shouldn’t get to cast the vote for all Americans.

In response to "And finally, what good is a Flat tax without a real monitoring and system of punishment," Robert Scardapane writes:

Actually, what good is it at all? This is a scheme to push the tax burden on people that can't afford it. Every election cycle, the Republicans wheel out the same tired idea and end up dropping it because 90% of the public will get clobbered. Also, the Republicans are jawing about the "death tax"; can't they at least be honest and admit it's an estate tax that applies to estates worth over 3 million dollars. The Republicans have no new ideas; they are incapable of leading this country.

In response to, ""I say Obama" and "So do the Republicans," Eddie Konczal writes:

While I share Pat's concerns, I would hate to see the "America isn't ready for a black man" argument become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If everyone who said, "I'm for Obama, but America isn't ready for a black president," would shorten the sentence to the first three words, then that would go a long way to actually helping America become ready for a black president.

Since the Democrats won't win the South anyway, let's not worry about those states, and focus on selecting the best candidate we have - regardless of that person's race.

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-Noah Greenberg