Thursday, February 07, 2008

What the hell is going on in the world?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

This is the latest installment of our "Around the World" series -- just with some serious exasperation attached to it.

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First, two comments from Kevin Drum:

-- "Seriously, I guess we should all just shut up and wait to see what happens. I really have no idea what's going on anymore." (link)

-- "Right now I'm wandering aimlessly around the web looking for news -- any news -- that's not election related. After all, there's only so much you can say about a day when both Democratic candidates tied and their demographic appeal stayed pretty much the same as it's always been." (link)

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I spent much of yesterday thinking about Super Tuesday and voraciously reading whatever I could get my hands on (rather, whatever I could click on). I stand by my initial view, expressed in the early-morning hours, that Obama won. By that, I don't just mean he won more states (which he did) and delegates (which he also did) but that he won by blocking Clinton's path to victory and by putting himself in a position to win the nomination, as well as by gaining both credibility and momentum by winning impressively all over the country and by drawing even, roughly speaking, with his opponent, recently the evident frontrunner.

Super Tuesday was supposed to be Clinton's day, the "national" primary day that would propel her to the nomination. Obama was expected to do well in the early states, in Iowa and South Carolina, and he won both, but Clinton regained her footing in New Hampshire and seemed to have everything in place to meet early expectations, namely, expectations of victory. But now Obama is back, raising extraordinary amounts of money and looking good heading into the next set of primaries and caucuses. If he wins all or most of those votes -- Louisiana, Washington, and Nebraska on Saturday; Maine on Sunday; Maryland and Virginia next Tuesday; Wisconsin and Hawaii the following Tuesday -- he could pull well ahead of Clinton going into the big March 4 votes in Ohio and Texas. Clinton looks good in those two states, but the hybrid system in Texas may benefit Obama and, with Obama having a lot of time to campaign personally in Ohio -- and his numbers tend to go up when he campaigns personally anywhere -- he could pull that one out, especially if he's riding the momentum of other victories.

This is not to say the race is over. No, this just seems to be the best-case scenario for Obama going forward, one that would give him a significant delegate lead, and perhaps even the perception of virtual invincibility, after March 4. What is amazing about Obama's solid performance yesterday -- and this is why I think he won in the larger scheme of things -- is that he was able to put himself in this position, a position that seemed remote at best just last week. Of course, Clinton could still pull off victories over the next few weeks, surprising the media and slowing (if not reversing) Obama's momentum, and could win both Ohio and Texas, and then, after that, other big states like Pennsylvania. And, of course, there may be (and are likely to be) some surprises along the way. And it could still be a long, tight race.

Still, there is cause for concern on Clinton's part, and, in her Tuesday night speech, her appeal to progressives, reiteration of the bogus "experience" argument, and general scrappiness seemed to reflect such concern, particularly in comparison with Obama's genuinely presidential address. (And then there's Clinton's huge self-loan, an indication that she's running well behind Obama financially and is desperately gearing up for the tough fight ahead.)

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I'll get into the Republican race tomorrow or Friday -- maybe. It just looks like the GOP will have as its nominee a man who isn't liked by some of its core constituencies, who may even have a majority of the party faithful against him. Yes, it will be McCain, it seems, and that will be that. Huckabee can only win narrowly in southern states and Romney looks more and more loserish to me, a man who can win his home states and those states where he overspends wildly but nothing else. And so the rifts over on the right and within the GOP will deepen, and conservatives will have to decide whether they want to swallow their ideological pride (and their purificationist longings) and back McCain or rebel against their party (thereby ensuring McCain's loss in the general election, perhaps in anticipation of a post-election coup to recapture the party).

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Alright, so I've said a lot even though so much has already been said. Though I admit, like Kevin, that I may not know what's going on, I do think Super Tuesday was better than a draw for Obama.

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Oh, here's a good Super Tuesday summary from the otherwise wrong-headed Mark Steyn: "The real story of the night, when you look at their rallies and their turn-out numbers, is that the Dems have two strong candidates either of whom could lead a united party to victory. Forget the gaseous platitudes: in Dem terms, their choice on Super Duper Tuesday was deciding which candidate was Super Duper and which was merely Super. Over on the GOP side, it was a choice between Weak & Divisive or Weaker & Unacceptable. Doesn't bode well for November." (link)

Nope, doesn't bode well at all.

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But what else is going on in the world? Here are some quick links:

1) Chad: "At least 100 civilians were killed in last weekend's fighting between rebels and government forces in Chad, according to aid agencies."

[The rebels seem to have agreed to a cease-fire, but there could now be a refugee crisis.]

2) Tajikistan: "Tajikistan is in the grip of emergency food shortages, the UN's World Food Programme is warning... Some humanitarian agencies claim Central Asia's poorest nation is heading towards catastrophe."

3) Pakistan: "Taliban militants declared a ceasefire today in fighting with Pakistani forces. The Pakistani government, meanwhile, says its is preparing for peace talks with the Al Qaeda-linked extremists in the lawless tribal area near the border with Afghanistan."

[Shouldn't this story be getting a lot more attention?]

4) Italy: "President Giorgio Napolitano dissolved Italy's Parliament on Wednesday, and the cabinet scheduled national elections for April 13. Mr. Napolitano's move followed the failure of Italy's political factions to agree on a plan to revise the country's flawed electoral law before a new vote."

5) Serbia: "Serbia's nationalist prime minister yesterday blocked the signing of a landmark pact between Belgrade and the EU in an attempt to delay the secession of Kosovo."

[Thankfully, the pro-European incumbent, Boris Tadić, narrowly beat a right-wing nationalist in the second round of the recent presidential election.]

And on a lighter note:

6) France: "Nicolas Sarkozy, who less than three months ago became the first French president to divorce while in office, is now reported to be on the verge of becoming the first one to wed while occupying the Elysee Palace."

[The lucky (?) lady is singer-supermodel Carla Bruni. "I have tried to lift France out of the mud," de Gaulle once said. "But she will return to her errors and vomitings. I cannot prevent the French from being French." Not that I really care about Sarkozy's personal life. It is what it is, and his politics are worse.]

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Well, there's some of what's going on around the world, hellish and otherwise.

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