A letter to Pennsylvania (or how to become a superdelegate)

I grew up in Pennsylvania, and went to university at Penn (as did just about everyone on my Dad’s side of the family). I spent a couple days near where I grew up about three weeks ago, speaking at Penn State and Bucknell, and then travelled to Philadelphia to speak at an Obama event at Penn.

It is surprising how home never quite leaves you, no matter how far away you may be. And so as I saw PA leading up to a primary, I thought about writing a letter. Pennsylvania was the last place where I dreamed about life as Superman (at the age of 7); here’s 9 minutes asking PA Democrats to become super-delegates.

(There’s a version at YouTube, but the quality is astonishingly poor. I don’t get the reason for the difference — it is the same file uploaded in both places. But the sync is way off.)

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16 Responses to A letter to Pennsylvania (or how to become a superdelegate)

  1. I understand your “excite” argument. It has emotional appeal. Unfortunately, it’s not at all clear it’s factually valid. It’s a hand-wave where one would need painstaking specific demographic analysis (an alleged great strength of Karl Rove). The opposite argument is that what is gained from motivating the base, drives away the swing voters, and it’s not clear when the trade-off works. It’s a very complicated, very empirical, issue.

    Note also in the details, Obama’s winning strategy has been in mobilizing relatively small numbers of very committed party faithful, which leads to victory in the caucus system. That’s not something which translates into general election victory. He’s nowhere near as dominant in large-state primaries, and indeed, has LOST ALMOST EVERY ONE. This somewhat argues against your thesis that he excites enough new voters to make him the preferred candidate.

  2. Etin Mot says:

    Sounds like Seth drank the HRC Kool-Aid…

    Small numbers, like the 700,000 vote lead Obama has in the popular vote thus far (which would likely be around 1.4 million if they had held primaries in the states where caucases were held)? Or another small number, like 27 (the number of states that Obama has won, compared to 14 for Hillary – that’s counting Texas as a Hillary win, even though Obama won the caucases and received more delegates from Texas than did she). Or maybe 1,333,979 is a small number – that’s the number of donors to Barack’s campaign. 13% sounds small – that’s how much Obama leads Hillary by in the latest national Zogby poll. 54% doesn’t sound so small, but wait, that’s the percentage of Democrats surveyed in the latest Washington Post – ABC News poll that have an unfavorable view of Hillary. 143 doesn’t sound like a small number either, but that’s the delegate lead that Obama has over Hillary according to CNN.

    Lot’s of small numbers. Funny that you attribute Obama’s success to the party faithful, when Hillary is the candidate connected to the old school party heavy hitters (you know, like the 20 millionaire donors who threatened Nancy Pelosi and the DCCC after Nancy remarked that the superdelegates should not overturn the will of the voters), the Democratic Leadership Committee. Obama’s part of the Democratic Party’s new school, choosing not to focus only on big states and traditional Democratic strongholds, but valuing every states’ primary or caucus. Funny how Clinton said that Barack was un-democratic because he was trying to end the contest early when some of his supporters called for her to concede, yet she has stated her disdain for the will of the voters by calling for the superdelegates to overturn the primary results if Obama wins the delegate race and by calling for pledged delegates to switch sides. Also funny is how HRC is now the champion of the people of MI and FL, but prior to Feb. 5, she had no problem with the DNC rules, which SHE SIGNED A PLEDGE TO FOLLOW!!!

  3. >> I don’t get the reason for the difference — it is the same file uploaded in both places. But the sync is way off.

    It’s their encoding process. YouTube mixes down and encodes the uploaded video for low-bandwidth, high-distribution, blip.tv for high-bandwidth, low distribution. Keeping audio and video in sync with one another is a difficult process, regardless of how much it’s being diluted from it’s original state. However, while it’s *MUCH* more complicated than this, the greater the dilution, the greater the chance of getting out of sync.

    Why not just keep the focus on blip.tv?

  4. Hello,

    First off – I am quickly becoming a fan of your presentation style :). I don’t know if it was intentional but I felt that it was a neat evolution of Steve Jobs-esque delivery.

    On the content:

    You captured eloquently the energy felt by the new voters whose imagination Barack has managed to capture. If you can appreciate that, I wish you could feel the energy felt by people who are not citizens but aspire to be. Barack is capturing the imagination of human beings across the planet. I suspect if nominated, it would not only be the democratic base that would be expanded, but the American one across the world.


  5. [ I’m not even going to try. It’s just not worth my time 🙁 ]

  6. Lorin Rivers says:

    What America needs is to have a positive attitude. Morale of the people has a HUGE impact on their liklihood of succeeding as a group. That’s one of key things that Obama offers, in my opinion. I think if he’s President, the People will believe they can achieve so they (at least have a better chance) WILL achieve. I fear something intangible like that is the only thing between us and a generation of failure (like the UK in the 80’s). A self-defeating prophecy averted.

  7. Carl says:

    Etin Mot, you made me sad today.

    Seth brought up a valid and possibly controversial point (that excitement for a particular candidate may not translate into popular success) on what is unabashedly pro-Obama blog, but he was able to do so in a measured and thoughtful way that did not seem trollish at all. (We’ll overlook the use of all-caps just this once.)

    Then you respond with a mishmash of personal attacks (everyone who disagrees must be drinking Kool-Aid?) and tangentially related points such as attacking Hillary’s statements or pledges when no part of Seth’s argument depended on Hillary or her statements at all. Your response feels like a firehoses full of boilerplate statistics (number of donors, number of states won, neither of which you connect meaningfully to the original point) and partisan accusations designed to protect your preferred candidate and attack “the enemy”. Behaving trollishly like this turns otherwise productive conversations into back-and-forth fights that get nowhere. In fact, the reason I lean towards Obama in the first place is that he doesn’t seem to resort to this kind of argument style. For the most part his responses address the questions he is asked and reflect genuine consideration and understanding of the opposite point of view.

    In that same vein, I was interested in hearing what Seth had to say and am sad that he is letting these kind of attacks make the internet just a little less interesting, but I really can’t blame him; I’ve been sucked into the quicksand of fighting trolls too many times.

  8. Clark says:

    I love your presentations, but since the move to blip.tv I have had the hardest time getting them to play on my media player. I’ve tried to convert then and download the different formats, but they don’t break out of the blip player well. Transport is not easy and .mov is not an option. I want to have them on my person to share the love!

  9. Todd says:

    Quite well said, and inspiring. I think your point about ending internal party battle is something that needs to be brought to light.

    By the way, your video shows up differently because different sites use wildly different encoders and bitrates, and YT is one of the poorest. Viddler does a pretty good job as well as allowing download.

  10. John says:

    Seth, per the validity of the comments on “excitement”.

    The key error in your post was the usage of the term “party faithful”. This is not the case. The data backs up that the traditional party faithful promoted Hillary. Some have moved over, but the motivation behind Obama leading to his pulling of “nonvoters” into his camp are the key. The statistical breakdown is first off that a voter who hasn’t voted in a primary before is more likely to vote for Obama than ANYONE ELSE. Therefore, the large #’s we’re seeing at the primaries work in his favor. This does play forward and is sustainable as we still expect incredible turnouts for the general election at this point.

    As well, this also invalidates your phrasing of “motivating the base” and it’s affects. Obama’s message is resonating primarily w/ people who want to have faith in their government and leaders again. George W. Bush successfully leveraged that desire in people. It remains to be seen if people are willing to give their faith to government again or not (I’d guess they will), but your entire post still seems based upon a belief that Obama plays to and is being driven by “the party faithful”.

    Lastly, the dismissal of a strategy that has allowed him victory as not being sustainable is valid, yet misses the additional factor, which is that when the general election comes around Hillary will not be a candidate. The choice will not be Hillary or Obama or McCain, it will be Obama or McCain. Hillary’s supporters will go somewhere and the most likely recipient is Obama.

    In the simplest numbers we have, if we take the 2000 and 2004 election results and allow for them to essentially drive the results (slight republican victory), the fact that Obama brings new voters into the equation that did not exist before makes him the most likely candidate to win. Given the narrow victories of late, a candidate that can push a % of votes in their direction right of the gate via excitement over their candidacy (completely outside of any policy discussion) is the likely victor.

    That isn’t to say that policy isn’t important, just that statistically (which you seem to be denying in your post) he has the better chance at victory because of such excitement (ceteris paribus).

  11. Yusef Morton says:

    You all write brilliantly and passionately about your candidates. However, if this moment of national political enlightenment isn’t taken advantage of, another opportunity to recapture our government will sadly slip away. The American people are ready for change. The problem is, at the end of the day, the weight of a nation will be on one person’s shoulders even though it took an entire nation to get them into the Presidency. Our Capital is infested with warmongering, money embezzling, double talkers that have been pimping the system for decades. Until we get them out of Washington we can’t truly get in. What Obama’s Campaign has shown is the strength of the American people and made manifest the blueprint to usurp power from the powers that be. The Clinton machine love it or hated is powerful and well connected. If that train can be derailed by the will of the people what do you think will happen if the same concentration of energy is applied to other house and senate incumbents who haven’t been representing the American people? Dems & Repubs alike. George dub has forced us to wake up. I thank him for that, but know that our eyes are wide open we better start analyzing the record of all these politicians.

  12. Stephen Allison says:

    “endless battle” seems an overstatement, when it will certainly end in a few more months.

    also, i think the objection to senator obama’s comments is less about his use of the word bitter and more about his implication that that bitterness is the source of people’s religiosity and interest in guns. that aside, i agree with you that playing this level of soundbite politics gets ridiculous.

  13. Alan says:

    “warmongering, money embezzling, double talkers that have been pimping the system”

    Depending on who the war is against, this is a perfect description of Obama.

  14. Shame on you. Those attacks were written by a domain-hijacker as part of a smear campaign to discredit me (and others) for opposing his power-grabs. They are full of outright lies and mud-throwing in the hopes that something will stick, some damage will be done (as we see!). See my rebuttal:

    What Happened To The Censorware Project (censorware.org)

    Again, shame.

  15. Lollie says:

    Professor Lessig,

    I don’t know who to say this to so it will do any good. And maybe it will do me no good saying this here or any where… but at least I will have said it,


    In one corner we have Obama, money from real people and I’d have to give him Keith Olberman too,

    In the other corner we have McCain, Senator Clinton, President Clinton, The fox not real news, fox-lite: ABC, all the lobbyists, the flood of republicans on all the talking head shows….. and Reverend Wright.

    The race must be handicapped because one on one, Obama is the cleanest, with the most congruency between words and actions, and he is most beholding to the people of America, whereas the other candidates are both most beholding to lobbyists…..

    Seems to me everyone but Obama underestimates the intelligence of the American voter. A word to the wise, when the country is in as deep a mess – in as many ways as it is – right now, more than anything we want to know who we can trust. If Clinton could convince me I could trust her more, I’d switch my vote in a heartbeat. Same for McCain. The media screwed the pooch on that one though. They’ve put us in a position where we trust Obama more than we trust the other candidates AND 92% of the media (on tv and the internet)…. did any of us ever expect to distrust so many of our journalists? I sure didn’t.

    Yes, Obama’s got my vote and he’s keeping it. And that’s not entirely his doing. The idiots ganging up on him are only super-gluing my vote to Obama. I’m 55 years old, and I’m telling you, it’s a damn topsy-turvy world when we can trust some of the politicians more than most of the news media! No matter how hard I try, I can’t wrap my mind around that fact.

    I apologize for being somewhat off topic. But it felt wonderful to speak my own truth.

  16. Jacque Denise Yap says:

    well its getting warmer now actually i really can’t tell which i would side with, but i am leaning towards obama. Furthermore, the GOP base is not even warming up to mccain (of course, i could be wrong) and even though it’s still early in the game, this just proves to show how we see our candidates to-date. i know i will get burned for this, but i think mccain is a warmonger. i get the impression that he doesn’t care to what happens to our troops in the middle east and the other parts of the world. Can’t we just all get along? i think it is time for a purification; i think it is time for a change; i think it is time for obama time. Now that the candidates are set for the US Presidential Election, Barack Obama and John McCain are beginning to set the tone for their campaign.t appears as though the long awaited face-off between the two presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, has now officially kicked-off with the release of two TV ads. you can see the ads in http://pollclash.com

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