Breaking News Kerry Wins New Hampshire

Breaking News: Kerry Wins New Hampshire

Caught Kerry’s victory speech on CNN. With 73% of precincts reporting, he still has 38% of the vote, a 12-point lead over Dean. The race for third place is still tight, with Clark at 13% to Edwards’s 12%. [As you know, that is about where it ended, save that Kerry got 39%.]

Kerry’s sudden reemergence is remarkable, but on the face of it, it isn’t so strange that a long-serving Massachusetts senator should win New Hampshire, nor that a former governor of Vermont should have also done well there. Iowa and New Hampshire are famously not bellwethers for the rest of the country, and are more a Darwinian mechanism for weeding out the weak and unsuited than an indication of who will win the party’s nomination.

On February 3, Edwards will probably take South Carolina (with Sharpton doing double digits there too), and Edwards could do well in Oklahoma and maybe Missouri, as well (though Gephardt’s endorsement is expected to help Kerry there). If Kerry can finish second in South Carolina, it would be very significant for him. But it will be tough; Clark could do well there, more because he is from Arkansas than because he is a former general.

You’d expect Kerry to take Delaware. Arizona, New Mexico, and North Dakota are probably up for grabs. But the basic fact about next Tuesday is that it probably just won’t settle anything, and will keep alive candidacies rather than ending them. I’d say Clark has to win at least one to remain viable, and obviously Edwards has to carry South Carolina and maybe one other to look credible going forward.

A few days later, Michigan and Washington state have their votes, and they are big states that matter, where the victories will tell us something. One thing Michigan will tell us, as the Detroit Free Press has pointed out, is whether Kerry or some other candidate can get out and win the African-American vote. African-Americans are some 12.9% of Americans, but almost all of them vote Democrat. If we say the country is about evenly divided between voters for Democratic candidates and voters for Republican ones, obviously the 52% of the country that votes Democrat in presidential races is about a quarter African-American. This is a problem, since the poor and the young vote in lower numbers than the wealthy and the senior. African-Americans are very disproportionately poor and young. So one key to a Democratic victory is having a candidate about whom African-Americans can get excited, who will actually draw them to the polls (having an honest state election system that ensures their votes are actually counted also helps).

And, I have a theory about Kerry. A key element of his appeal is that he is a Vet. It may help him that he is a prominent Vet who has worked for the interests of veterans (unlike Bush, who wanted to cut veterans’ benefits and who waited out Vietnam with a country club assignment in the Texas air national guards [which he tried to get out of, as well]). And being a Vet who is pro-veteran is the one thing that might enable a candidate to appeal to both African-Americans and white Southerners. Because both have a strong military tradition, and both have served in the US military during the past 40 years in numbers disproportionate to their percentages of the general population. It is probably not a primary consideration, but it may be a factor–especially at a time when the families of servicemen and servicewomen, reservists and national guards are upset and worried about Bush’s Iraq policy.

Kerry made one Middle East reference in his speech, saying he was going to support US independence from petroleum so that no American young person would have to serve militarily in the Middle East. He implied that the Iraq war was about securing petroleum supplies or about keeping them inexpensive, or something. My advice to Senator Kerry is to drop this particular grace note. There is no near-term replacement for petroleum that is nearly in the same price range or which doesn’t have very bad implications for the environment. Coal produces acid rain. Wind generators kill lots of birds and give human beings migraines. Solar is expensive and photovoltaic cells for large-scale production require a lot of exotic metals that are toxic (including cadmium and selenium) and the cells will be hard to recycle [solar is anyway really, really expensive]. Nuclear produces pesky radioactive isotopes that are hard to store safely, can fairly easily be used to make dirty bombs or enriched to become nuclear bombs, and last for thousands of years.

Petroleum costs around $25-$30 per barrel, and is likely to go on doing so for decades. (Those who argue for an imminent shortage ignore the likelihood of further big finds–it is like the old ‘Limits to Growth’ fallacy of the early 70s that predicted all kinds of metals would be rare and extremely expensive by now, but ignored the simple fact that when metals get more expensive, more of them tend to be mined.) Every other fuel source is ‘way more expensive or more damaging to the environment. So, who wants to pay twice as much for their monthly heating and energy bills? Or have their skin corroded by acid when it rains? Moreover, petroleum is plentiful and lots of countries are happy to pump it for the current price, and it is not necessary to do things like invade and occupy Iraq to have inexpensive petroleum. Saddam’s petroleum was making its way to the US. No producer could afford to boycott the US long; that way lies bankruptcy. The main problem of OPEC and other petroleum producers in the mid-1990s was that there was an oil glut. Prices dropped to near $10 a barrel for a while in the Clinton era.

So, the promise is unrealistic and the premise is flawed. If Cheney took us to war about petroleum, it was not for our general economic benefit but to open investment and money-making opportunities for US petroleum corporations–opportunities that they could have gained more easily by exploring Pakistan and India more intensively. And, if the US were willing to put the money into insulating and increasing fuel efficiency, it could cut its petroleum consumption by a third easily, which would be good for the environment and economically would benefit the country over the subsequent decade or two (the Europeans pulled this off after the oil price shocks of the 70s). However, the American public does not want to hear about conservation and this is a project that should only be undertaken in the second term of a president, not on the campaign trail.

If Kerry wants to bring this issue up, the right way to do it is to say that international cooperation on security in the Persian Gulf would be a better guarantee of energy security for the country than unilateral American military action.

[Dear Environmentalists: I am one of you; I have been reading and thinking about the environment for 40 years. I helped organize trash pick-up along the road for the first Earth Day. I am not saying that no alternative sources of energy should be used or encouraged. Indeed, I am all for throwing money at research and development, and encouraging environmentally safer energy sources. Better fuel cells would be all to the good. But they would increase gas mileage in automobiles to 60 miles a gallon, not abolish petroleum. I am saying that independence from petroleum is a chimera as long as it and natural gas are 10 times cheaper than solar power. Even if Kerry got two terms, he would not be able to move the country anywhere near independence from foreign petroleum and it is therefore a bad idea for him to suggest that he could. I am talking about real-world economics and political good faith here.]

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