28 February 2008

The Passing of a Father

I don't remember how I got hooked on National Review. I know it happened while I was a freshman in college. Little did I know that it would become perhaps the most influential literature in shaping my worldview.

National Review, of course, was Bill Buckley's baby. He was the man who masterminded the conservative revolution out of the ashes of Goldwater's defeat in 1964. Without him, there would've been no Reagan, no Republican takeover of Congress, no reclamation of the Supreme Court. Mr. Buckley began a movement that left its stamp on every branch of our government, as well as society.

His passing will be mourned. By me, and thousands like me, for our political and philosophical education didn't come from school, but from the pages of National Review.

I never had the privilege or pleasure of meeting Mr. Buckley. But as a loyal subscriber of NR, I felt there was this kinship -- he was like a philosophical father to me. His words, and the words in the magazine, were readily and eagerly digested by a young soul hungry for intellectual nourishment. It was truly a moveable feast.

In many ways, I am fortunate that my introduction to the conservative movement was through the erudite prose of NR, not the angry words from the world of talk radio or Ann Coulter's books. I learned the art of making an argument without resorting to putdowns and ad hominen. It was an education just about unavailable now in the halls of any American university.

It prepared me for life.

Bismarck once remarked that "if you're not a socialist at 19, you have no heart; if you're still a socialist at 30, you have no brain." Well, call me tin man, but I'll settle for not being an idiot. What I learned from the pages of NR was a sense of individual responsibility and that government is not the elixir to what ails us. I grew up never viewing myself as a victim and it has served me well.

Demographically, I'm far from a typical NR reader. I am an immigrant; came to the U.S. at the age of 15. My family members are staunch Democrats. My friends, most of whom I met in college and from the world of journalism, are your standard issue left-liberal progressives.

In other words, I just rent space in a village of "There is nothing to fear but America itself;" "Ask not what your country can do for you, but demand it;" "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and pay for every grievance, real or imagined." I respectfully dissent. What gets me going is an absolute belief in myself and that I live in a land of opportunity. I'll get what I deserve.

Over time, my core values clashed with that of many of my colleagues, even bosses. But I thrived because I didn't shout people down when we had a disagreement -- I reasoned with people, with good cheer and good humor, straight out of Mr. Buckley's study halls. With it, I sometimes got my adversaries to least consider the merits of my views.

Sometimes I end up getting them a gift subscription to NR. And sometimes the mere presence of NR cost me money!

Every so often, I get a letter from NR asking for contribution. In its over half century of existence, NR never made money. In fact, Mr. Buckley himself said the magazine lost about $25 million over its life span. It's not easy being the scourge of the liberal elite.

National Review will live on. It will carry on because of its importance and its intellectual heft, honesty and old-fashioned civility. But the absence of its father will be palpable. Bill Buckley didn't just write a few passages in the penultimate pages of the magazine. He was the co-author of a great morality play that gave us the end of the Cold War and, for millions, their freedom.

Mr. Buckley. R.I.P.

16 February 2008

The Race for Delegates (Feb. 16)

The scoreboard watching is getting a bit more interesting.

After routing Hillary Clinton in the "Potomac Primaries," (hmmm, it feels like a reference to the Battle of Bull Run or Army of Northern Virginia would be appropriate here), Barack Obama opened up a 100-plus delegate lead in the race for pledged delegates:

Contrast that with his lead before the "Potomac Primaries," but after a coast-to-coast romp in Washington State, Nebraska, Louisiana and Maine:

Obama has nearly doubled his lead, from an advantage of 69 delegates, to 134. And his current lead is about five times the edge he had coming out of the Tsunami Tuesday standoff:

One thing the Main Stream Media is finally catching on is that the super delegate count really is somewhat inconsequential at this point. The Clinton campaign, until the rout of the Potomac, had always insisted on including the super delegate count as the overall package -- because Hillary was always in the lead that way. Now Obama is leading, no matter how you count the delegates.

But more important, super delegates are free to change their minds, all the way to the convention floor in Denver in August. Clinton may have built a 70-super-delegate lead, but that is tenuous. In fact, a number of prominent super delegates have openly talked about switching their commitment, and some already jumped ship. For the record, this is what the super delegate count looks like at the moment:

Obama leads in other areas that are more meaningful than the current super delegate counts:

1) States won (including D.C.)

Routs are defined as states won with either 60 percent of the vote, or by at least 20 percentage points (or both). Nailbiters are ones won by 2 percentage points or less. Wins are everything in between.

Obama has won twice as many states as Clinton. And as you can see, most of his wins are routs, six of which came during his current seven-game winning streak. Clinton's two routs are from Oklahoma and Arkansas, where she was the former first lady.

2) Popular Vote

For a party that likes to cry about "the will of the people" ever since losing the 2000 presidential election, this is a big deal. If the Democrats are still sore about Al Gore losing to George W. Bush eight years ago despite winning more popular votes, then they can't in good conscience send up a candidate that lost the popular vote battle during the primaries to the general election, can they?

Obama currently leads by a count of 9,377,155 to 8,670,342. That's a whopping 7.5%, a lead Clinton is unlikely to overcome. Clinton's people would like to include results from the Michigan and Florida primaries, even though the party and all candidates had agreed that the contests would be invalid and Obama's name wasn't even on the Michigan ballot.

But even counting Michigan and Florida, Obama still leads by about 83,000 votes, though that's a margin Clinton might be able to overcome, thus her campaign is hot about getting those contests to count retroactively.

Obama's road to the nomination is open, but it's hardly without obstacles. First, he must deliver two more victories in Wisconsin and Hawaii next Tuesday, contests that Clinton has feigned disinterest but is desperate to pull out an upset. Then, he must minimize his losses in Ohio and Texas on March 4. If he can somehow bag the Lone Star State, then the game might finally be over.

If not, the show must go on. (And so does the math.)

12 February 2008

For Once, Notre Dame is No. 1

(From BCS Guru)

The 2007 season has not been kind to Charlie Weis. He has endured just about every humiliation imaginable.

First, he lost a very public trial on a questionable medical malpractice suit. Then, his Notre Dame team failed to score an offensive touchdown until leafs started to turn. The Irish began the season 1-9, including an ignominious loss to Navy that ended a 43-year ND winning streak against the academy. Weis' squad finished 3-9 (thanks to wins over brainiacs Duke and Stanford) with the nation's bottom-ranked offense.

So for 2008, Weis has no place to go but up, right?

How about starting No. 1?

While we have lambasted Weis when he deserved it, we also will bestow him credit when it's due. Weis and his assistants put together the best recruiting class of the year that mostly concluded on National Signing Day last week. This does not necessarily augur better days ahead for Notre Dame -- as these players still need to be coached -- but it's a good place to start.

So here are the Guru's Top 10 recruiting classes, giving equal consideration to quality and quantity:

1. Notre Dame -- Weis' haul of 23 players included four five-star players, whom he hopes to be the foundation of a renaissance, though that's at least a year or two away. Dayne Crist (Sherman Oaks Notre Dame HS), was among the best quarterbacks in the country and may give last year's prized signee and fellow Californian, Jimmy Clausen, some competition. WR Michael Floyd and TE Kyle Rudolph are also rated among the best at their respective positions. Weis bagged most of his recruits early, well before the disastrous 2007 season began and suffered no defections. And as is the norm with Notre Dame, this is a national class with players from 18 different states.

2. Alabama -- Like Weis, coach Nike Saban was in desperate need of good news after a dismal 7-6 season punctuated by a late collapse. In his first full recruiting season at 'Bama, Saban signed 32 players, including three rated as five-star prospects. A flurry of late signings helped boost the Crimison Tide's ranking, the most important being Julio Jones, the consensus top wide receiver in this class. Saban was able to fend off Florida and Florida State to keep the Foley HS star in state. Two other Alabama natives, LB Jerrell Harris and WR Marcel Dareus, also decided to stay home on signing day. Saban managed to keep in-house the best Alabama high school crops of recent vintage, including OT Tyler Love.

3. USC -- This is just another case of embarrassment of riches piling up at Troy. Pete Carroll only signed 19, but has as many five-star recruits as anyone. The Trojans shored up attrition on the offensive line by signing two of the top-ranked players at that position, Matt Kalil and Tyron Smith. Carroll also finished with a late surge, snatching DE Nick Perry (Detroit King HS) from Michigan and Michigan State, and CB T.J. Bryant (Tallahassee Lincoln HS) out from under Bobby Bowden and other SEC suitors. Besides the occasional forays across the country, USC as usual kept the best homegrown talent, signing 12 SoCal recruits, including TE Blake Ayles.

4. Georgia -- Coming off an 11-2 season culminated in a rout of Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl, the Bulldogs have a lot to look forward to in 2008. And Mark Richt did most of his work in 2007, with all but OT A.J. Harmon in the class of 23 committing before the bowl game. Georgia got a pair of skill position aces in WR A.J. Green and RB Richard Samuel. The Bulldogs didn't have to go very far for this recruiting bonanza, with 16 in-state recruits and the rest from neighboring states, including the class' top-rated kicker, Blair Walsh.

5. Ohio State -- Jim Tressel's class of 19 may get even better, as Ohio State is still waiting word from QB Terrelle Pryor, the top-rated recruit in this year's class. Even without Pryor, the Buckeyes hauled in a top-notch group that includes some of the nation's best linemen, including C Michael Brewster and T Mike Adams. Ohio State loaded up on defense but the class' one weakness is its dearth of skill position players. WR DeVier Posey is a good get, the question is, would he be catching passes from Pryor in a year or two?

6. Florida -- Coming off a shellacking at the hands of Michigan in the CapitalOne Bowl, Urban Meyer knew he needed to get Tim Tebow some help and also address the holes on a porous defense. Done and done. The Gators' class of 22 features some of the nation's top receivers, especially JC transfer Carl Moore from Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif. Moore's recruitment landed Meyer in hot water as an investigation ensued as to whether Meyer induced Moore to come to Gainesville by getting his girlfriend a gymnastics scholarship at Florida. Meyer, who fended off a strong late push from USC and Cal for Moore, eventually was cleared.

7. Oklahoma -- Another great regular season, another BCS bowl humiliation. For the third time in four years, the Sooners lost in a BCS bowl, this time a blowout to a coachless West Virginia team. So what does Bob Stoops do? He reloads. OU once again outmuscled Texas for some of the best recruits in the Lone Star State, getting more than half of its class of 21 south of the Red River. And it's not just quantity: The Sooners' top recruits are all Texans, including Justin Johnson and Jermie Calhoun, both among the top five running backs in the country.

8. Michigan -- Rich Rodriguez might've showed up late, but he didn't miss a beat. The Wolverines signed a class of 24, saving one scholarship for Pryor, who is trying to decide among Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. Michigan made a late charge to vault into the top 10, signing eight players in the waning days before National Signing Day. Rodriguez kept most of Lloyd Carr's commitments and stole a couple from Big Ten rivals, including RB Michael Shaw from Penn State. Now if Pryor does decide to come to Ann Arbor, then Michigan will have a top-five class. Pryor has until April 1 to make his decision.

9. Miami (Fla.) -- Randy Shannon signed a whopping 33 players, finishing with a bang by getting five players to commit on National Signing Day, the biggest get being CB Brandon Harris (Miami Booker T. Washington HS), right in his backyard. Shannon and his staff didn't have to go far to get most of his recruits, with 23 of his signees being from Florida. The major weakness of this class is its lack of quality quarterbacks and running backs, as the Hurricanes have struggled mightily on offense in recent years.

10. LSU -- The defending BCS champion did well to preserve a spot in the top 10, though the Tigers owed their ranking more to quantity than quality. LSU did get one superstar in CB Patrick Johnson out of Pompano Beach, Fla., but the rest of the class of 26 is not laden with stars. Perhaps Les Miles' fling with Michigan caused some anxiety on the part of the recruits, but LSU didn't exactly reap any immediate benefits after winning the BCS championship. The Tigers got just three commitments after routing Ohio State in the title game.

Honorable Mention -- UCLA, Texas, Florida State, Clemson.

11 February 2008

The Race for Delegates (Feb. 11)

For those who consider politics as sport, or live for horserace politics, the 2008 Democratic contest is like a dream come true. Pardon me while I pinch myself purple!

Between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, this is all about delegates now -- pledged delegates, super delegates, stolen delegates, you name it. The more the better. And doesn't matter where you get them. If it takes kissing the ring of snake-oil salesman John Edwards, pucker up.

But the delegates business is a confusing one. Unlike the Republican race, which features a number of winner-take-all contests and more streamlined proportional allocation in others, the Democrats have a system that basically rewards participation. They are afraid to hurt the candidates' feelings -- there's no place like first place, except second place, sometimes third place. For instance, when Clinton finished a distant third in Iowa, she got 15 delegates, exactly one fewer than Obama's 16.

To ease some of the confusion, as a public service, I'm here to provide a scoreboard for the ongoing Democratic contest. This will be updated each time primaries and caucuses are held.


RCP 1004 925
CNN 986 924
CBS 999 922
AP 964 905

AVG 988 919

NOTE: It seems like even the news orgaizations cannot agree on the methodology of counting delegates, so we are accepting all their numbers and taking the average. As of now, Obama leads in all four by an average of 69 delegates.


RCP 140 213
CNN 135 224
CBS 140 210
AP 160 242

AVG 144 222

NOTE: Unlike pledged delegates, super delegates are beholden to no one -- and they may change their minds at any given time, all the way to the convention. Clinton has a lead of about 78 on average, but that may shift quickly.



* Also won U.S. Virgin Islands; ** Also won American Samoa

NOTE: "Winning" is defined strictly on more popular votes received, even if the "winning" candidate earned equal or even fewer delegates than the losing candidate, i.e. Clinton is considered to have won Nevada even though Obama took more delegates, 13-12.


Next primaries/caucuses: Feb. 12 in Maryland, Virginia, District of Columbia






NOTE: "Rout" is defined as a candidate expected to win by 10 percentage points or more. The forecast owes much of its existence to the invaluable regression analysis done by Poblano of the Daily Kos. The only issue I take with the model is the inclusion of "Southern Baptists" as a variable. I believe this explanation by an Andrew Sullivan reader may be more relevant in locating a more revealing variable in terms of racial politics.

08 February 2008

Democratic Brawl Continues

Tsunami Tuesday turned out about expected -- a dead-heat for the two Democratic contenders and emergence of a clear front-runner and presumptive nominee in John McCain for the Republicans.

With Mitt Romney dropping out of the race, it is all but settled for the GOP. McCain, who appeared in front of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) to make his case on his conservative credentials, should formally wrap up his party's nomination by no later than March 4. In any event, the Republican establishment has already circled the wagon for its man, something Republicans do best.

Not so much for the Democrats.

Tuesday's outcome left Barack Obama with 13 more delegates than Hillary Clinton, 878-865, not counting the super delegates, who may opt to de-commit if they wish. Counting the super delegates, Clinton has a 70-delegate lead, 1,076-1,006.

Of course, neither, by any count, is close to the 2,025 needed for nomination. And with only 22 states remaining, plus Puerto Rico and D.C., this will be a protracted fight, perhaps all the way to the Democratic Convention in Denver.

Obama had an opportunity to deliver a crushing blow -- if not the knockout punch -- with a win in California on Tuesday. Getting the biggest piece in the delegate pie would at least give him a decisive and symbolic victory over Clinton. But with Hillary holding together a women-Latino-Asian coalition, she escaped with a tie even though she won only eight of the 22 states contested that day.

The next 10 days present Obama with another opportunity to seize the momentum. Of the eight states, and D.C., that are holding caucuses and primaries, he should win at least seven. Maryland, Virginia, D.C., Louisiana, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Hawaii should all be friendly turf. He'll have to battle Clinton in Maine and Washington State.

This is how I see these nine contests unfold: Obama should win decisively in Maryland, D.C., Louisiana, Nebraska and Hawaii and narrowly in Virginia and Wisconsin. Hillary will eek out close victories in Maine and Washington.

As far as delegate counts, I project Obama to come away with 269, to Hillary's 242. This gives him a 40-delegate lead with 14 states left to compete.

But even a sweep of all nine contests by Obama will not force Clinton to quit, and there would be no reason to, anyway. The Democrats' fatally flawed proportional allocation of delegates, borne out of their own incessant yearning for unmitigated egalitarianism, all but forces the race to the convention floor.

And that means the nomination likely will be a brokered deal, with three parties holding all the cards: 1) The 796 super delegates, party luminaries and functionaries who are unanswerable to the electorate but own nearly 20 percent of the vote; 2) delegates from Michigan and 3) delegates from Florida, potentially may cast the tie-breaking votes even though their presence has been banned from the convention floor as punishment for moving up their primary dates against party rules.

If the process drags onto the convention floor, it would seem to favor Hillary. She has more clout with the party establishment, recent defections not withstanding. And she also "won" the primaries in Michigan and Florida, even though she was running unopposed in Michigan and reneged on a pledge not to campaign in Florida.

So like a boxing match, Obama's best chance to succeed rests with ending the match before it goes to the judges' cards. But upon examining the remaining races, that's improbable.

Even if he should sweep the remaining 12 states (highly unlikely, with Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania in the mix) by large margins, the best he could hope for is still about a 1,800-1,700 lead over Clinton, not enough to clinch the nomination. With that being the case, the 500 or so yet-to-commit super delegates -- if not the Floridians and Michiganders -- will cast the deciding votes at the convention.

That's democracy, Democratic-style. You gotta love it -- if you're a Republican.