Candidates Invited to Science Debate

In December I reported on plans to invite the candidates to a Science Debate. An invitation has now been sent to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Mike Huckabee to participate in a debate proposed for April 18. The invitation provides the following description of the debate:

The debate may include such policy issues as: American economic competitiveness and support for scientific research; policy approaches to climate change; clean energy; the healthcare crisis; science education and technology in schools; scientific integrity; GM agriculture; transportation infrastructure; immigration; the genome; data privacy; intellectual property; pandemic diseases; the health of the oceans; water resources; stem cells; conservation and species loss; population; the space program, and others.

This is a policy debate. It is not intended to be a science quiz. Nor are we interested in state-level battles such as the evolution versus creationism/ID debate. Our goal is to find out how aware candidates are of America’s major science and technology problems and opportunities, and how they propose to offer the kind of visionary leadership and policy solutions that will tackle those challenges and ensure America’s place as the most scientifically and technologically advanced nation on earth. This is your opportunity to demonstrate that you are such a leader.

It would be fascinating to see the candidates discuss such issues but, considering the current campaign calender, I doubt it will occur. Perhaps the organizers could convince the sponsors of some of the debates between the Republican and Democratic nominees to include some of these topics. If the Democratic race doesn’t go all the way to the convention, there could also be a period this spring and summer before the conventions when the presumptive nominees might be more open to unconventional public appearances such as a debate of this nature.

Triumph of The Independents, And of Reality Based Voters

It is probably safe to say that John McCain will win the Republican nomination. While the Democratic nomination battle is certainly not over, the momentum is going in Obama’s direction. Assuming that these trends continue, the primary battles in each party can be seen as a triumph for the independents and the more reality based members of each party. We are also seeing a defeat for extremism, hyper-partisanship, voodoo economics, and anti-scientific views.

The conventional wisdom before Rove’s strategy fell apart was that the center did not matter. Each party was seen as being primarily composed of hyper-partisan extremists, and the winner would be which ever party which could get more of their extreme party members out to vote. There were not believed to be enough votes in the center, or enough swing votes, to matter any more.

This idea was destroyed when groups such as the Starbucks Republicans voted Democratic in the 2006 Congressional elections. These consisted of affluent socially liberal former Republicans who also were questioning the war. Of course other voters also rejected the Republicans, contributing to the Democratic majority. It turned out that, as I’ve argued all along, the voting population isn’t separated into two groups on the left and right which all hold one or the other set of beliefs. Not all agree with the most extreme members of their party even if they agree on most issues. People can also be socially liberal and fiscally conservative, can be religious fundamentalists without holding conservative economic views, or can hold a wide variety of other viewpoints which differ from the the party line of either party.

Assuming Obama’s momentum persists, it now looks like each party will nominate a candidate who is preferred by independents and who has raised reservations among the ideologues of their party.

Obama both pursues liberal goals and receives economic advice from adherents of the Chicago School. His views appeal to independents, but are opposed by ideologues from both the right and left. Ideologues of the right start from the assumption that government action is always bad and close their minds to any evidence to the contrary.

Ideologues on the left sometimes fail to recognize the limits of government action both in efficacy and in principle. While they will defend choice with regards to abortion or marrying a partner of either sex, they fail to understand that those of us who run businesses also value choice in running our businesses, and that most individuals value choice in personal economic as well as sexual matters. The far right calls Obama a Socialist. The far left fails to acknowledge that others do have valid objections to some government action, and mistakingly claim that any consideration of personal choice in economic matters, or any arguments to limit government, constitutes use of conservative frames.

Democratic voters already rejected John Edwards who based his campaign on arguments of class warfare, and now appear to be rejecting Hillary Clinton’s views which are based upon the philosophy that more government programs can solve any problem. This is no more valid than the view on the far right view that all government programs are bad and that government is not able to solve any types of problems. Similarly the attempts of the Clinton campaign to attack Obama for merely mentioning Ronald Reagan in a historically accurate perspective failed to stop Obama’s momentum.

Republican voters are also rejecting the voodoo economics of the far right. The most extreme cling to the Laffer Curve as justification to cut taxes without facing the consequences. McCain, facing the political realities of the Republican Party, has often strayed from conservative orthodoxy on tax policy, but has also been known to repeat conservative claims.

Partisan Democrats (including many liberal bloggers) claim it would be impossible for Obama to work with Republicans as they note the difference between their views and the Republican orthodoxy. The reality is that most people who vote for both Democrats and Republicans do not hold the views of the most vocal ideologues or bloggers. I know many Republican businessmen and professionals who vote Republican because, rightly or wrongly, they see Democrats as hostile to business and supporters of higher taxes. This does not meant they follow the Republican line on all issues, or are uncompromising extremists.

The reality on taxes is that most people, whether Democrats or Republicans, would prefer to pay as little in taxes as possible. The ideologues of the left who have no qualms about raising taxes are no more correct than the ideologues of the right who argue that we can continue to pay for a war while also cutting taxes. Many Republicans beyond the ideological extreme want to keep taxes as low as possible, but recognize that a Grover Norquist style pledge to never raise taxes, even in time of war, is simply unrealistic.

I’ve often written about how Obama transcends some of the views of the left/right linear spectrum. Many moderate Republicans see McCain in a similar manner. Dennis Sanders wrote of what he sees as McCain’s Decent Conservatism at The Moderate Voice.

I could be totally wrong, but he seems to offer a more decent and civil conservatism that is far different from the stuff we are used to hearing.

He does go after the Democrats, but he seems to express what is wrong with their ideas instead of saying that they are evil. He expresses a desire for small government, stating that government isn’t the answer to every problem, but without all the anti-government rhetoric. He is willing to listen to those who disagree with him.

There is no talk about “family values” or other hot button issues.

There is room to argue as to whether McCain remains too conservative on these issues, but this provides an example of how many independents and moderate Republicans see him. Just as extremists on economic issues have been rejected by members of both parties, many are voting for the Republican candidate who they see as not being the candidate of the religious right. Mike Huckabee still appeals to a distinct minority of Republicans, but even he has found a way to place a kinder, gentler face on such views. While George Bush has governed from the far right, even he first was elected by claiming to be a compassionate conservative who opposed nation building.

Just as extremists often ignore reality in economics, the extremes on the right have increasingly been denying reality with regards to science. There is a view on the right that science is open to debate in political magazines, on talk radio, and in the blogosphere. They think that if they can win debating points and put forth a good argument, they can claim to be right and ignore reality. Many fail to understand the scientific method, or that science is best discussed in peer reviewed journals, not by armchair amateurs in the press or on blogs. They will typically cite any report, regardless of how weak, which seems to support their biases and ignore the large body of scientific evidence which contradicts their personal opinions. Their ultimate failing is that they reach their viewpoint first and then try to work backwards by trying to make the data fit. In science, as well as economics, it is necessary to keep an open mind and accept the conclusions as demonstrated by the evidence, even when the evidence forces you to change your original opinions.

Many conservatives support creationism and deny evolution based upon their religious views and do not care about the actual science. Several Republican candidates this year have denied evolution, which is firmly established as a fundamental principle of modern biology. While two creationists, Huckabee and Paul, remain in the race, neither is likely to win.

Similarly many conservatives have decided to deny global warming because they fear the consequences of accepting the scientific conclusions will be inconvenient to their life styles. Many ideologues also find it necessary to deny global warming because they cannot accept the existence of a problem requiring government action as this would contradict their viewpoint that government is always the problem and never the solution. As I said before, most Republican voters do not accept the full range of views held by the extremists. In this case they are willing to nominate a Republican who does not deny the consensus of scientific thought.

I also believe it is foolish for economic conservatives to take themselves out of the discussion of climate change by taking the untenable position of ignoring the scientific consensus. While there is a consensus on the nature of the problem, science does not offer a single solution. This is an area where I would prefer to see rational people from both the left and right consider the problem and offer solutions.

I believe that John McCain’s reputation as a moderate is exaggerated, but at least an election between McCain and Obama means that neither candidate is a supporter of torture. Unfortunately McCain is not being entirely consistent in his views, but I suspect that should McCain be president he will be more moderate than when trying to appeal to conservative voters. I also suspect he will return to the pre-Bush policy of Republicans of offer some verbal support to the religious right but limit what they actually do.

I suspect that both McCain and Obama are allowing the realities of a partisan nomination battle affect what they are willing to say, although Obama has often shown a willingness to stray from Democratic Party orthodoxy even before potentially hostile audiences. I am anxious to see how both candidates campaign in a general election campaign when the goal is also to appeal to swing voters and independents. I am hoping there will be reluctance from both camps to resorting to the types of attacks which have been characteristic of recent elections and we have a genuine national debate on the issues. A top adviser to McCain is already stepping down rather than engage in a campaign based upon attacking Obama.

At present both Obama and McCain are seeking independent voters in their party’s primaries and the battle for the independent voters will become even more intense between the two in a general election campaign. This will force the candidates to take a more reasonable line than would be expected from candidates appealing to their party’s base. While this will create greater anguish among partisans and ideologues of both parties, it is will be a welcome development to an independent such as myself.

Shuster to Remain at MSNBC

Last week David Shuster of MSNBC made the foolish comment, “Doesn’t it seem like Chelsea’s sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?” Hillary Clinton was understandably upset. Shuster apologized and was suspended. This should have been enough to resolve the situation but Clinton proceeded to overplay her hand in demanding that Shuster be fired and saying that she would not participate in a debate on MSNBC.

While I do not approve of Shuster’s comment, I also have severe reservations about a candidate for president using their influence to attempt to have any journalist fired. The manner in which Clinton tried to keep the story alive also raised justifiable skepticism as to whether this was being done more for political gain and to motivate women voters to vote for her. Her refusal to participate in debates on MSNBC was also seen as quite hypocritical in light of her acceptance of an offer to debate on Fox, which has been far more vile over the years.

MSNBC’s director of communication now states Shuster “remains on suspension indefinitely, but he will not be fired and will be returning to MSNBC.” Meanwhile Chelsea Clinton continues to be used by the Clinton campaign to attract the support of supper delegates, which is in no way improper or analogous to being pimped out.

Obama Passes Clinton In Two Daily Tracking Polls


Obama has finally moved ahead of Clinton in today’s Gallup Tracking Poll. He leads 45% to 44%, which is still within the margin of error. The three day tracking poll will begin showing if there is a further bump for Obama following the results of the Potomac Primaries in tomorrow’s poll.

Obama also leads for the first time in the Rasmussen Tracking Poll, leading Clinton 46% to 41% with a three percent margin of error. This poll tracks over four days. In match ups against John McCain, Obama leads 46% to 40% while McCain leads Clinton 46% to 42%.

(Note that in this blog entry, as well as in the others with the Gallup Poll graphs, the graphic can be seen in a slightly larger and clearer form by clicking on it.)

Obama Extending Lead in Democratic Race

The Democratic race is certainly not over, but baring a major change in the dynamics it is looking quite hard for Clinton to win without resorting to tactics which would totally divide the party and probably destroy any chance of her winning the presidency. All news services now place Obama in the lead:

NBC: Obama 1,078, Clinton 969
CBS: Obama 1,242, Clinton 1,175 
ABC: Obama 1,232, Clinton 1,205
CNN: Obama 1,215, Clinton 1,190
AP: Obama 1,223, Clinton 1,198

NBC only counts committed delegates won at caucuses and in primaries while the others include their estimates of super delegates. The committed delegates is the key number because it will be difficult for the super delegates to over rule the decision of the voters. Chuck Todd describes how difficult it will be for Clinton to overcome her current deficit:

For Clinton to overtake Obama for the pledged delegate lead — which we think is the single most important statistic for the superdelegates to decide their vote — she’ll have to win 55% of the remaining delegates. Assuming next week goes Obama’s way in Wisconsin and Hawaii, that percentage rises to 57%. Toss in likely Obama victories in Vermont, Wyoming, Mississippi, Oregon, Montana, and South Dakota, then Clinton’s percentage need tops 60% of the remaining delegates available. And this is simply for her to regain the pledged delegate lead… 

This is especially difficult with the momentum going against Clinton. Some cite New Hampshire as an example of a Clinton come back. What is forgotten is that Obama went from far behind in the polls to coming close enough to tie for delegates. If New Hampshire had continued their usual practice of randomizing the candidates on their slate of over twenty candidates the race would have been even closer. Some believe that simply being on the top of the ballot was enough of an advantage for Clinton to receive a slight majority of the popular vote.

The lesson of New Hampshire when applied to Ohio and Texas is that Obama can close large gaps in the polls in a short period of time. He may or may not win in those states, but it is doubtful Clinton can win by enough to pick up significantly more delegates.

Today things just seem to be going from bad to worse for Clinton. The latest news is that another super delegate, David Wilhelm, who was manager of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, is endorsing Barack Obama. AP reports, “Wilhelm planned to tell reporters that Obama can build a coalition of Democrats, independents and Republicans needed to win the general election.”

Anibal Acevedo-Vila, Governor of Puerto Rico, is also endorsing Obama. Puerto Rico, with 63 delegates, is the last to vote on June 7. While Obama eliminated Clinton’s previous lead among Latino voters last night, this endorsement may still be of value to ensure that this trend continues.

Obama Sweeps Potomac Primary

Barack Obama has another string of landslide victories, sweeping Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Once again he beat expectations. His victory demonstrates how he is taking control of the race by receiving increasing support from Clinton’s core voters. CNN’s exit polls note:

Obama was expected to poll well among young voters, independents and African-Americans, and he did — taking 60 to 70 percent of the votes in the first two groups and nearly 90 percent of black voters, the polls suggest.

But he also was edging out Clinton among voters 65 and older, blue-collar workers and women, all groups that Clinton was counting on as the core of her support…

And young voters flocked to the Obama campaign, the polls suggest. Seventy-five percent of poll respondents under 30 and 67 percent of those under 45 voted for him in Virginia. Those numbers were 68 percent and 71 percent in Maryland.

However, Obama also edged Clinton — 52-47 — among voters over 60 in Virginia and 50 percent of those voters in Maryland, compared with 46 percent for Clinton.

And he split white votes about 50-50 with Clinton in both states — edging her 50-49 in Virginia and trailing 51-46 in Maryland. That’s a big change from previous contests in which Clinton held a big lead over Obama among white Democrats…

In Virginia, Obama led Clinton 59 to 41 percent among the women who were polled. He also took 57 percent of the votes of respondents who said they earn less than $50,000 a year and 59 percent of those who said someone in their household is a member of a union.

Among those voters in Maryland, 59 percent of women backed Obama, 65 percent of those making less than $50,000 voted for him and 61 percent of those in union households supported him.

He was the winner among respondents who said the economy, the Iraq war or health care — a trademark issue for Clinton — was the most important issue to them…

In Virginia, Clinton took an overwhelming 96 percent of the support from voters who said experience was the most important quality a candidate should have. In Maryland, that number was 91 percent.

The increased support for Obama from many of these groups might alter predictions that Clinton can survive the race by winning the final three large states. Clinton has largely based her campaign on a number of myths which are no longer working. Her claims of being the inevitable winner do not hold up as she continues to lose primaries in every region of the country.

The results above also show that voters are no longer blindly accepting her claim of being more experienced. The reality is that Obama is by far the more experienced of the two. Obama has more years of legislative experience. During his years of legislative experience Obama has done far more positive than Clinton has, while Clinton has frequently been on the wrong side of the issues.

Besides his more impressive legislative experience, Obama’s experience in teaching Constitutional law is a skill which should be valuable in undoing much of the harm caused by George Bush. In contrast Clinton has been an advocate of increased presidential power and Executive privilege.

Obama’s experience as a community organizer can also be seen in how he has run his campaigns. Clinton sees both her campaign and her role in government as purely top down. Her Nanny State philosophy results in proposals based upon government control to force her views on all, while Obama shows a far better understanding of the necessary balance between government and private life.

As a result of today’s victories, CNN estimates that Obama leads 1,052 to 951 in pledged delegates. While he might not be able to accumulate enough delegates to clinch victory, if he continues to extend his lead over Clinton it will be difficult for the super delegates to deny him the nomination.

Clinton doesn’t know how to respond. This is the second time in a row that Clinton failed to acknowledge or congratulate Obama for his victory. After Saturday’s victories the Clinton campaign said that the victories didn’t matter because the caucuses were dominated by “activists.” Apparently the views of Democratic “activists” don’t count. Some Clinton supporters are claiming that these losses don’t matter because Clinton didn’t campaign in some of the states she has lost. This sure contradicts the Clinton argument that Michigan and Florida should count, despite the fact that not only didn’t Obama campaign, but all the candidates had pledged not to do so.

Clinton is still holding on to the belief that the Giuliani strategy will work for her as she waits for the big states to vote. Some still believe this will work:

Mike DuHaime, a Republican consultant who managed Rudolph W. Giuliani’s campaign, said Mrs. Clinton was making the right decisions in trying to make the most of her strengths.

“Clearly, she has had success in larger states and there are a whole bunch of delegates at stake on March 4,” Mr. DuHaime said. “They are not trying to figure out who can win the most states; they are trying to figure out who can win the most delegates.”

Some people just do not learn from their mistakes. We sure saw how well this logic worked for Giuliani.