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       SHRINKING DEMOCRATS     

Hillary Clinton won a convincing victory in Pennsylvania, but it came at a significant cost to the Clinton family’s reputation and to the Democratic Party. She won by throwing the “kitchen sink” at Obama, as her campaign aides described it. Her campaign had been an assault on Obama’s character flaws, real and imagined, rather than on matters of substance

This election,” Bill Clinton said in the hours before the Pennsylvania primary, “is too big to be small.” It was a noble sentiment, succinctly stated, and the core of what Democrats believe — that George W. Bush has been a historic screwup as President, that there are huge issues to be confronted this year. But it was laughable as well. The Pennsylvania primary had been a six-week exercise in diminution, with both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — and Bill Clinton too — losing altitude and esteem on an almost daily basis. Even as he spoke, the former President was in the midst of a tiny, self-inflicted absurdity, having claimed in a radio interview that the Obama campaign had played the “race card” against him. And that was the least of the damage.

Hillary Clinton won a convincing victory in Pennsylvania, but it came at a significant cost to the Clinton family’s reputation and to the Democratic Party. She won by throwing the “kitchen sink” at Obama, as her campaign aides described it. Her campaign had been an assault on Obama’s character flaws, real and imagined, rather than on matters of substance. Clinton also suffered a bizarre self-inflicted wound, having reimagined her peaceful landing at a Bosnian airstrip in 1996 as a battlefield scene complete with sniper fire. After six weeks of this, according to one poll, 60% of the American people considered her “untrustworthy,” a Nixonian indictment.

But that was nothing compared with the damage done to Obama, who entered the primary as a fresh breeze and left it stale, battered and embittered — still the mathematical favorite for the nomination but no longer the darling of his party. In the course of six weeks, the American people learned that he was a member of a church whose pastor gave angry, anti-American sermons, that he was “friendly” with an American terrorist who had bombed buildings during the Vietnam era, and that he seemed to look on the ceremonies of working-class life — bowling, hunting, churchgoing and the fervent consumption of greasy food — as his anthropologist mother might have, with a mixture of cool detachment and utter bemusement. All of which deepened the skepticism that Caucasians, especially those without a college degree, had about a young, inexperienced African-American guy with an Islamic-sounding name and a highfalutin fluency with language. And worse, it raised questions among the elders of the party about Obama’s ability to hold on to crucial Rust Belt bastions like Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey in the general election — and to add long-suffering Ohio to the Democratic column.

Yes, yes, the bulk of the sludge was caricature, and some of it, especially the stuff circulating on the Internet, was scurrilous trash. But there is an immutable pedestrian reality to American politics: you have to get the social body language right if you want voters to consider the nobler reaches of your message. In his 1991 book, The Reasoning Voter, political scientist Samuel Popkin argued that most people make their choice on the basis of “low-information signaling” — that is, stupid things like whether you know how to roll a bowling ball or wear an American-flag pin. In the era of Republican dominance, the low-information signals were really low — how Michael Dukakis looked in a tanker’s helmet, whether John Kerry’s favorite sports were too precious (like wind-surfing), whether Al Gore’s debate sighs over his opponent’s simple obfuscations were patronizing. Bill Clinton was the lone Democratic master of low-information signaling — a love of McDonald’s and other assorted big-gulp appetites gave him credibility that even trumped his evasion of military service.

The audacity of the Obama campaign was the belief that in a time of trouble — as opposed to the peace and prosperity of the late 20th century — the low-information politics of the past could be tossed aside in favor of a high-minded, if deliberately vague, appeal to the nation’s need to finally address some huge problems. But that assumption hit a wall in Pennsylvania. Specifically, it hit a wall at the debate staged by ABC News in Philadelphia — viewed by an audience of 10 million, including a disproportionate number of Pennsylvanians — that will go down in history for the relentless vulgarity of its questions, with the first 40 minutes focused exclusively on so-called character issues rather than policy. Obama was on the defensive from the start, but gradually the defensiveness morphed into bitter frustration. He kept his cool — a very presidential character trait — and allowed his disdain to show only when he was asked a question about his opponent’s Bosnia gaffe. “Senator Clinton deserves the right to make some errors once in a while,” he said. “What’s important is to make sure that we don’t get so obsessed with gaffes that we lose sight of the fact that this is a defining moment in our history.”

It is the transcendent irony of this campaign that Obama, who entered the race intent on getting past the “dorm fights of the ‘60s,” has now become deeply entangled in them. Each of the ABC moderators’ questions were about controversies that erupted in the ‘60s. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s black-nationalist sermons had their roots in the black-power movement that corrupted Martin Luther King Jr.’s “beloved community.” The sprouting of flag pins on the lapels of politicians was a response to the flag-burning of antiwar protesters; the violence of Weather Underground members like William Ayers, with whom Obama was said to be “friendly,” was a corruption of the peace movements as well. All of these occurred before Obama reached puberty — and they helped define the social atmosphere in academic communities like Chicago’s Hyde Park, where Obama now lives. For 40 years, the Republican Party has feasted on the secular humanism, feminism, distrust of the military and permissiveness that caricature such communities. For 40 years, the Democratic Party has been burdened by its inability to break free of those stereotypes.

Obama’s challenge to the primacy of that sort of politics is both worthy and essential. His point, and Bill Clinton’s, is indisputable: there is a need for a big election this year. A decision has to be made about the war in Iraq. The mortgage-market and the health-insurance systems are falling apart. There is a drastic need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels for national-security, environmental and basic supply-and-demand reasons. The physical and educational infrastructures of the country are badly outdated. In order to have an election about those big challenges, we need to shove some serious social issues — like gun control and, yes, even abortion — and phony character issues to the periphery. But Obama is going about it the wrong way. “After 14 long months,” he said in his concession speech, “it’s easy to get caught up in the distractions and the silliness and the tit for tat that consumes our politics, the bickering that none of us are immune to, and it trivializes the profound issues.” What’s wrong with that, you might ask? It’s too abstract, too detached. Too often, Obama has seemed unwilling to get down in the muck and fight off the “distractions” that are crippling his campaign. Obviously, this is strategy — his appeal has been the promise of a politics of civility (and as a black man, he wants to send low-information signals that he is neither angry nor threatening). But what if, after ABC had enabled the smarmy American-flag-pin question from an “average citizen,” Obama had taken on George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson directly, “Why aren’t you guys wearing pins? Why isn’t Hillary?” Indeed, this was Clinton’s strategy in an earlier debate, upbraiding her questioners from MSNBC — and it may have turned the tide in her favor in Ohio and Texas.

In the last days of the Pennsylvania campaign, Obama made a halfhearted attempt to go negative. He ran ads distorting Clinton’s health-care plan, claiming that it would force everyone to get health insurance (true), even if they couldn’t afford it (false). He devoted more and more of his stump speech to slagging Clinton. “She’s got the kitchen sink flying, the china flying — the buffet is coming at me,” he said during a whistle-stop tour of southeastern Pennsylvania. His delivery of the kitchen-sink line was droll, but the rest of the tour was surprisingly soporific. He seemed fed up with campaigning — as any reasonably sane human being would be at this point — and embittered by the turn the race had taken.

I’m not sure that Bill and Hillary Clinton are reasonably sane human beings, at least not when they are running for office: they become robo-pols, tireless and seemingly indestructible. Senator Clinton was on fire in the days before the Pennsylvania primary, as energized as I’ve ever seen her. She barely mentioned Obama at all but fiercely plowed her latest field — the populist granddaughter of a Pennsylvania factory worker, the daughter of a Penn State football player. As she said in her victory speech, “You know, tonight, all across Pennsylvania and America, teachers are grading papers, and doctors and nurses are caring for the sick, and you deserve a leader who listens to you. Waitresses are pouring coffee, and police officers are standing guard, and small businesses are working to meet that payroll. And you deserve a champion who stands with you.”

There was a warmth and a feistiness to Clinton in Pennsylvania — the very qualities that Obama was lacking. She had embraced the shameless rituals of politics, including some classic low-information signals, downing shots of Crown Royal and promising lower gas prices, attacking her opponent over trivia and threatening to “obliterate” Iran. It was enough to earn the ire of the New York Times editorial page, which harrumphed, “By staying on the attack and not engaging Mr. Obama on the substance of issues ... she undercuts the rationale for her candidacy that led this page and others to support her: that she is more qualified, right now, to be President.”

Well, tsk-tsk and ahem! But part of the problem with editorial writers — and, truth to tell, columnists like me — is a narrow definition of the qualifications necessary to be President. It helps to be a warrior, for one thing. It helps to be able to take a punch and deliver one — even, sometimes, a sucker punch. A certain familiarity with life as it is lived by normal Americans is useful; a distance from the élite precincts of academia, where unrepentant terrorists can sip wine in good company, is essential. Hillary Clinton has learned these lessons the hard way; Barack Obama thinks they are “the wrong lessons.” The nomination is, obviously, his to lose. But the presidency will not be won if he doesn’t learn that the only way to reach the high-minded conversation he wants, and the country badly needs, is to figure out how to maneuver his way through the gutter. – Time

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                                                                                    New constitution                                                                                

Maldivian parties arrive at landmark decision

The Maldivian Constitutional Assembly (Special Majlis) after months of deliberation has adopted the Chapter of the draft new Constitution dealing with transitional arrangements to cover the period from the ratification of the new Constitution until the swearing in of the new Maldivian President and the election of the new Parliament.

The Transitional Chapter has been the source of considerable disagreement between the governing party, the DRP, and the main opposition party, the MDP. The latter argued that an unelected national council and transitional parliament should hold power during the transition phase, in order to guarantee free and fair elections.

Opposing this stance, the DRP insisted that the current President and Parliament must fulfill their democratic constitutional mandate until the election of their successors under the new Constitution. Creating unelected transitional institutions would, argued the DRP, set a dangerous precedent. Instead, they stressed the importance of establishing independent commissions during the transition phase which would guarantee free and fair elections. This would include an Interim Elections Commission, an interim Judicial Services Commission and an Interim Supreme Court.

The final Transitional Chapter follows the arguments of the DRP by clarifying that the President, Cabinet, Parliament and other persons elected or appointed under the current Constitution shall remain in place until their successors are elected or appointed under the new Constitution.

The Transitional Chapter clarifies that all such elections and appointments must take place within two years of the coming into being of the new Constitution.

Specifically, the Transitional Chapter states that the first Presidential election under the new Constitution has to take place before 10th October 2008.

This will be the first multiparty Presidential election in the history of the Maldives.
The new President will be sworn in and assume Office on 11th November 2008.
The first Parliamentary elections under the new Constitution must take place before March 31, 2009, with the new assembly holding its first session before May 1st the same year.

Elections for all city, island and atoll councils shall be held before July 2009.
In order to guarantee that these vital first elections in a new democratic era for the Maldives are both free and fair and, importantly, are seen to be free and fair by all domestic and international stakeholders; the Transitional Chapter will create a range of independent bodies including the Interim Election Commission, an Interim Judicial Service Commission, an Interim Supreme Court and the Anti Corruption Commission to operate during the transitional phase.

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Up In Smoke

Haiti’s PM Fired In Aftermath Of UN Slaying, Soaring Food Costs

PORT-AU-PRINCE — The fury last week that swept through this capital city, stunned everyone even in a place where chaos is no stranger. In a span of a week, Haiti saw its prime minister lose its position, the death of a UN peacekeepers and scores of others and a destruction unseen since the uprooting days of 1986, following the departure of Jean Claude Duvalier.
For days, looters pillaged supermarkets, restaurants and other properties.

The violence appears wanton but in this country’s odd ways, some stores were kept intact as others around them were totally destroyed. So in what seems like a perpetual stop and start, Haiti’s political leaders began the search for a new prime minister on Sunday after a week of riots sparked by skyrocketing food prices led to the ouster of the impoverished Caribbean nation’s government.

The political grapevine buzzed with the names of possible replacements for Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis, who was fired on Saturday in a vote by 16 opposition senators who said he had not done enough to ramp up food production and reduce the cost of living.

By tradition, Alexis was likely to remain in office until a new government leader and cabinet were chosen. President Rene Preval will propose a candidate to parliament, which must ratify the selection.

“The new prime minister needs to be someone who can unify. He should not be partisan,” said Anthony Barbier, a sociology professor at Haiti’s University of Notre Dame and a member of the Fusion political party.

“It should be someone with great sensitivity toward the poor so that he can look for solidarity in favor of those less privileged,” he said.

Haiti —ravaged by political upheaval, dictatorship and military rule since a slave revolt threw off French rule 200 years ago — has struggled to install stable democratic institutions since the end of the Duvalier family reign in 1986.

The latest upheaval follows a week of rioting by Haitians enraged at the soaring cost of rice, beans, cooking oil and other staples.
Preval, who also served as president from 1996 to 2001, is the only elected leader to serve a full term and successfully pass power to a democratic successor.

But he is no stranger to a protracted search for a new prime minister.
In his first term, it took him 21 months to put a new government in place after then-Prime Minister Rosny Smarth resigned in June 1997.

Long Stalemate
A stalemate with parliament then left the government virtually paralyzed and hampered negotiations with international donors. Preval nominated two candidates who were rejected by lawmakers before settling on Alexis, who was installed by decree after the legislature was dissolved.

One of Preval’s rejected candidates in 1997 is among the names being floated for prime minister by political analysts and radio show hosts now — Ericq Pierre, a senior adviser with the Inter-American Development Bank.
Analysts were also suggesting longtime politician Paul Denis as a possible candidate.
THE HAITIAN TIMES

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