Saturday, August 30, 2008

This is the wonderful short bio that ran before Obama's speech on Thursday.

Friday, August 29, 2008


While all the political calculations about Sarah Palin go on, you have to wonder what's going on in the mind of, say, Chuck Hagel. Here's a Republican U.S. Senator who seems genuinely torn on who to support for President: his old friend and fellow GOPer, John McCain, or Barack Obama, who he traveled to Iraq with, who he has defended against scurrilous attack, and who he agrees with on a number of issues.

Did Sarah Palin just make up his mind? Responsible Republicans who care about foreign policy issues, the defense of the country, the role of America in the world, must be appalled by this choice. And the judgment will come down, not on Sarah Palin, but on John McCain for choosing her to be a potential heartbeat from the presidency, when that heartbeat belongs to a 72 year old with a history of cancer.

Chuck Hagel--and Colin Powell, and perhaps others--may forgive McCain many things, but can they forgive him this?

Bush-Cheney marginalized Republicans like Hagel, Powell, Lugar. McCain, who was once closer to their point of view than Bush-Cheney's, may have pushed them completely out.

This may not matter much. I'm not sure how many votes Chuck Hagel brings with him to whoever he supports. And though he and Powell may wind up supporting Obama in public, it's not clear that many others will follow, in public. After all, responsible Republicans have stood by while Bush-Cheney have shredded the Constitution, institutionalized torture and domestic spying, and de-professionalized the Dept. of Justice and who knows how many other departments with neocon Evangelical loyalty tests. They might just stand by as John McCain demonstrates contempt for the office of President.

Then again, they might not.

so you tell me, is this a parody or not?
Because I truly can't tell. What a world.Posted by Picasa
Thirty-Eight Million

To the record 84,000 who saw Obama's acceptance speech live, add another first: the biggest television audience for an acceptance address ever. At an estimated 38 million, it was a bigger American audience than watched the opening of the Olympics, the Oscars or the finale of American Idol. It is twice as many people who watched Kerry's acceptance speech four years ago.

Sarah Palin may have turned the head of the news people today, but for most people who even heard about it, the response was more likely to be: who?

John McCain named Sarah Palin as his VP. My first thought was judging McCain's assessment of the race: he doesn't think he's close. This is a big gamble, with potentially big dividends and drawbacks. It also may be a short term gain. The one area where it can be safely predicted that Palin will have lasting benefit to McCain is with Evangelicals and other anti-choicers.

It could be brilliant, if it works. It steals the morning after buzz of Obama's speech, although 36 million Americans watched it-- a lot more than saw McCain's announcement. It's great counter-programming: an old/young ticket to go against the Obama young/old ticket, but with the wild card of a woman candidate who is anti-choice. It's going to make the VP debate quite tricky: Palin has zero foreign policy cred and Biden has a lot--can he keep from looking like he's bullying her?

She might be able to energize McCain, and give some new life to the maverick image. But longterm, her inexperience is likely to be the deal-breaker for working voters. I don't think she'll play in PA. But you have to give the McCainers credit--they've lived to play another day.

Update: Pat Buchanan, who is ecstatic about this choice since she is a follower of his politically, did say one astute thing about Sarah Palin's utility: McCain can send her to the conservative audiences he needs but isn't all that comfortable with--and they aren't all that comfortable with him. That frees him to concentrate more on swing states and independents, where he tries to revive his maverick image. The question is whether he's able to change directions of his campaign in time, after the Dems hammered him for a week about being a Bush clone. If he indeed pivots from the experience mantra, and positions himself in a more positive vein as a change candidate, then the dynamics change a bit. But enough? It depends on whether perception of him from 2000, as a maverick, can be successfully revived. Suddenly, the campaign becomes no longer about Obama as much as McCain.

After today, Palin has the potential to become this year's Dan Quayle. She has already admitted that she knows little about Iraq, even though her own son will soon be deployed there. I think most mothers of soldiers, let alone vp candidates, inform themselves about Iraq.

Jonathan Alter of Newsweek is underwhelmed: Happy birthday, Johnny Mac! You're 72 now, a cancer survivor, and a presidential candidate who has said on many occasions that the most important criteria for picking a vice president is whether he or she could immediately step in if something happened to the president. Your campaign against Barack Obama is based on the simple idea that he is unready to be president. So you've picked a running mate who a year and a half ago was the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, a town of 8,500 people. You've selected a potential leader of the free world who knows little or nothing about the major issues of the day beyond energy. Oh, and she's being probed in her state for lying and abuse of power.

The problem is that politics, like all professions, isn't as easy as it looks. Palin's odds of emerging unscathed this fall are slim. In fact, she's been all but set up for failure. ..But what does she know about Iranian nukes, health care or the future of entitlement programs? And that's just a few of the 20 or so national issues on which she will be expected to show basic competence. The McCain camp will have to either let her wing it based on a few briefing memos (highly risky) or prevent her from taking questions from reporters (a confession that she's unprepared). Either way, she's going to belly-flop at a time when McCain can least afford it.

Alter also goes into detail to show how the current ethics investigation of Palin in Alaska could blow up in McCain's face as well as hers.

By the way, I just saw the PBS News Hour and interviews on the convention with several columnists from papers around the country, including Jack Kelly of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Too bad--that paper has a number of astute writers. Kelly isn't one of them. He wasn't even well informed enough to know that nobody is yet measuring the convention bump in the polls--that won't be until Monday at the earliest. Although Obama is eight points ahead in the daily tracking today.

Young Barack may have had dreams of glory, but
probably not of the home run he hit in his
acceptance speech Thursday night before
84,000 fans at Mile High stadium. Posted by Picasa
Mile High Home Run

The TV commentators gushed, even Pat Buchanan was beside himself with enthusiasm. And now the print reviews are starting to come in, with raves like this and this and this from the New York Times, this and this and especially this (E.J. Dionne) from the Washington Post, and this from the Guardian, just to skim off the top of the list.
(A lot of them have photos and excerpts, but not as good as mine.)

The points of view are interesting. Pat Buchanan thought it was centrist, Dionne a fulfillment of Civil Rights, and Kos is thrilled that it's solidly progressive. And they all loved it. So did T. Goddard, and he supplies some other gushers.

In a way I find all this amusing, because my first impression of the speech was that it was Barack's Greatest Hits. Almost everything in it I've heard before, which supports my contention that the people braying for Obama to say this or that just haven't been listening. David Gergen likened it to a symphony, and that's a great way of describing it: it was new in its combinations, its moods and sharpened expression. It was what he chose to put in it, how he arranged it and delivered it.

With the rumor that McCain had selected Pawlenty as VP, the folks as MSNBC seemed to fear that the McCain campaign might just vaporize. The drama of the oncoming storm Gustav may be the only thing that will produce any interest in the GOP convention next week. It may not be that drastic, but I've been waiting for the point that Obama seals the deal. He may be on his way. It may not even take the debates, but I suspect it won't really be sealed until after the first one at least. But the bounce is coming, and people are going to be talking about this speech for awhile.

What seemed to interest the commentators was Obama's "new" combativeness. Some of it was new, like the word "temperament" when Obama talked about a debate on who has the temperament and judgment to be Commander in Chief. It signals an escalation--McCain campaign's attacks have been so scurrilous we may have lost track of how brutal they are. Well, temperament is a real McCain weakness (his temper or at least sourness increasingly evident to the media, as in this interview), and real weaknesses are harder to defend than fictional ones.

I've said here before however that Obama always said he would engage his opponent in the general election in ways he wouldn't engage fellow Democrats in the primary--and by the way, didn't that pay off big time? Bill Clinton, Hillary, Al Gore, John Kerry, Bill Richardson, etc. all made invaluable and specific contributions to his candidacy during this very successful convention. And Joe Biden is his running mate.

And I've pointed out that the pre-convention strategy involved organizing, fundraising and putting together the resume, from the overseas trip to rolling out economic and energy plans. The convention starts the head-to-head, and Obama took this on himself. Democrats are ecstatic, the media has a fight to cover, while the convention did a great job of telling and showing Obama's story, which he used to relate directly to voters with the issues.

Now Obama and Biden campaign together, starting in Pittsburgh. They'll hammer the economic issues, and I expect as we get into late September and October, the economic argument--barring intervening extra-campaign events--will increasingly focus on health care.

Finally, several of the NBC commentators--starting with Brian Williams--noted the notes in the speech that seem straight out of that wonderful couple of minutes in the film (that surprisingly they all knew as well as I do), "The American President." I pointed out the similarity of something Obama said to this speech before. I'll have to look for that post, and maybe post the YouTube clip. Later.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I've now posted my recollections of the March on Washington, with photos, here. If I get real ambitious I'll post it all here, too. Without photos, it also tops the Rescued list at Daily Kos.
I stayed up writing a recollection of the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, which I'll post later. Quotes and photos from Wednesday night are at Dreaming Up Daily.

What more can you ask of an evening that includes this from Bill Clinton?:

Everything I learned in my eight years as President and in the work I've done since, in America and across the globe, has convinced me that Barack Obama is the man for this job. Barack Obama is ready to lead America and restore American leadership in the world. Ready to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. Barack Obama is ready to be President of the United States.

But as one of those otherwise silly commentators said, when Obama showed up (as JFK did before his stadium speech), the difference in generations was obvious, he is so clearly younger. And judging by the gambles he took in trusting these folks, pretty smart, too.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Convention Tuesday

The verdict was immediate on Hillary Clinton's speech--it was the speech of her life, and it unified the party behind Obama.

Lots of sites have the speech and the commentaries. She is certainly to be commended for doing this so well, although she could have been stronger in telling women what will happen to Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court if McCain is elected. But nobody is yet pointing out what a triumph this is for Obama. He trusted her, gave her this gig in prime time, and lots of people doubted the wisdom of it. They thought it showed weakness; he was giving the Clintons too much time and focus.

Clinton was terrific, but Barack was right. She had every reason to do what she did, for her future in the Democratic Party and her daughter's (for there were almost as many images of Chelsea in the Hillary video as Hillary), should Chelsea want one. She had lots of supporters in the hall, but even so, it was well over two-thirds Obama partisans. Still, Obama must have treated her right. He's either a magician, or a really good judge of people.

Mark Warner's keynote was pretty good--aimed at Independents, or independent minded, and on the theme of bringing people together to solve problems. Although he's from Virginia, it's a theme that plays especially well in the West.

Gov. Schweitzer was lively, Kathleen Sibelius was dull (so Barack was right about the VP too) but for all the talent, the officeholders were generally not very inspiring speakers--not like Michelle, and of course, nowhere near Barack. Somebody mentioned how far Hillary has come from being completely blown away by Bill's speaking power and style whenever they appeared together, to this speech Tuesday--very powerful, skillfully presented. So Bill has to be really good tomorrow, and Joe has to top him. And of course, Barack has to be best of all. No pressure or anything. Should be fun.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Michelle Obama showed grace, poise and star power speaking before the Democratic Convention Monday. Lots more photos at Dreaming Up Daily.Posted by Picasa

Monday, August 25, 2008

Convention Monday

It was the Kennedy family anointing the Obama family, with patriarch Teddy passing the torch. And the Obama family showing that the torch is in good hands.

The first of the Obama family to speak, and the one most ignored by commentators, was Barack's half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng. First of all, none of them appeared to be thrown by speaking in that huge place, with an unimaginable TV audience. Maya is a history teacher, not a public figure. But she used the one phrase I will remember: "bounteous opportunity." It's a wonderful two word description of what has become the cliche-ridden American Dream. "Bounteous" as is abundance but also suggesting beauty.

Craig Robinson is a college basketball coach, so he's also used to speaking before people, but not in anything like this setting. He, too seemed comfortable, and he was effective. No one was more effective than his little sister, Michelle Robinson Obama. She has that star quality that jumps out at you. Maybe I'm old school, but her pace didn't vary--it was full speed ahead (which apparently it had to be, as PBS brutally cut off its coverage in the middle of Barack's video appearance afterwards.) Otherwise, she was perfect. Malia and Sasha were great, too. Malia looks like she's going to be at least as beautiful as her mother. Here's a fine Salon article that describes her speech and the reception.

Michelle's mother was a prominent voice in the video about her, and once again, she was very poised and effective. A family with a great American story, but an extraordinary and admirable family, too, if that's allowed without seeming "elitist."

Earlier, Ted Kennedy rallied the troops and passed the torch. "The dream will never die" (1980, when I campaigned for him in PA) became "the dream lives on." The memories that the speech and the Ken Burns docu that preceded it inspired were just about exhausting. I do feel emotionally drained by the evening, possibly because of all the times the dream has been deferred, and derided. Just like all the carping and nonsense coming out of the media, focus groups, GOPer ads and bitter Hillaryites. Or possibly because I didn't get enough sleep, and I have a card loaded with crap for the recycling center, sitting on a flat tire I have to deal with tomorrow.

I didn't watch the gab earlier in the day, but I gather a lot was about the Hillaryites. I doubt there's going to be much conflict visible at the convention, but the prospect of it might get people to watch who might not otherwise. Good for the networks, and if things work out well, good for the Dems.

In the middle of all this I caught the story online--which was entirely ignored by TV--of the arrest of three men for drugs and weapons, who might be involved in a plot to assassinate Obama. There's a disconnect between what some are saying, what the police say, and what the coverage has been. Police have scheduled a press conference tomorrow in Denver. HuffPost has a story about assassination coming up in focus groups, and immediately turning views on Obama sour, and emboldening McCain supporters. It's obviously a flashpoint, an alternating current of alarm and denial, despair and hope, fear and courage.

Posted by Picasa
JFK to Obama: Tips on the Acceptance Speech

The last time the Democratic nominee for President gave his nomination acceptance speech in a large outdoor stadium was in 1960, when John F. Kennedy spoke at dusk in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

In the previous two elections, the Democratic nominee had been Adlai Stevenson, whose speeches were intelligent and articulate, and who could make a case for the Democratic Party agenda. But though Stevenson engendered fierce loyalties in the party, he wasn’t exciting. He didn’t move large crowds. JFK knew that he could, and this event was the signal that he would in 1960.

So that’s the meta-lesson from JFK: if you’ve got it, use it. While pundits and the hot air networks counsel Obama to reign in the rhetoric and stick to laundry lists of programs, there will be 80,000 or so people in the stadium ready to rock. They want to hear what 80,000 voices chanting “Yes, We Can!” sounds like. Obama got this far by inspiring people. If he’s going to win, he needs to motivate those who got him this far. They will help him spread the enthusiasm.

We want to hear him talk about change, about hope, about the fierce urgency of now. We want a little “Yes We Can.” Democrats should go home from Denver on fire.

Sure, the context of 2008 is different: the country was uneasy but pretty prosperous in 1960, Eisenhower was still a popular President so Nixon had advantages McCain doesn’t. But JFK was new. He was younger than Obama (though he had been in the House and Senate for 14 years.) After 7 years as VP, Nixon seemed to be a known quantity. Voters were unsure: change, or experience?

The race remained pretty even, even after the debates which historians—in retrospect—often say were decisive for JFK. But in that fall, the most obvious difference was that JFK’s crowds grew and grew, not only in size but in enthusiasm. Doubts were overcome by the contagion of hope. That’s what needs to happen this fall, particularly in October.

Then there are lessons from the speech itself…

Lesson #2: Become the leader of the party.
JFK began his speech complimenting the party and the platform, and with a litany of other Democrats.

Lesson #3: Confront the elephant in the room. For JFK it was his Catholic faith. For Obama, it’s race. JFK devoted about 3 paragraphs to reassuring voters that he was independent, with his first allegiance to America. Obama is speaking on the 45h anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. Obama was 2 years old. In large measure, he is a fulfillment of King’s dream, and he should own it. And he can do it within a larger context of America and the American dream.

Lesson #4: Go after the Republicans directly. JFK’s speech is remembered for introducing the “New Frontier.” (More about that coming up.) But he devoted five paragraphs in the middle of his speech to partisan rhetoric aimed at his opponent, Richard Nixon. For instance:

We know it will not be easy to campaign against a man who has spoken and voted on every side of every issue.

JFK then drew the contrast between the parties in terms that ought to be familiar today:

But we're not merely running against Mr. Nixon. Our task is not merely one of itemizing Republican failures. Nor is that wholly necessary. For the families forced from the farm do not need to tell us of their plight. The unemployed miners and textile workers know that the decision is before them in November. The old people without medical care, the families without a decent home, the parents of children without a decent school: They all know that it's time for a change.

Lesson #5: Focus on the future. That was really what distinguished JFK as a candidate, and it’s the natural move for the younger candidate to make (though in fact JFK was only 3 years younger than Nixon, and Nixon was a year younger than Obama is now.) JFK was influenced by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and his contrast of the Republicans as the party of the past and the Democrats as the party of the future. The Republicans practiced the politics of memory, he wrote in a book published a few years later, while the Democrats represent the Politics of Hope.

Here’s what JFK said:

Today our concern must be with that future. For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do.

In this section of his speech, JFK sketched some of the challenges. While today scholars like to see him as a Cold Warrior, and he did talk about the need to engage Soviet expansion, he also emphasized the need for peaceful means.

The world has been close to war before, but now man, who's survived all previous threats to his existence, has taken into his mortal hands the power to exterminate his species seven times over.

He spoke briefly about domestic challenges, including Civil Rights:

A peaceful revolution for human rights, demanding an end to racial discrimination in all parts of our community life, has strained at the leashes imposed by a timid executive leadership.

Then he reiterated the emphasis on change and the future:

It is time, in short for a new generation of leadership. ..The Republican nominee, of course, is a young man. But his approach is as old as McKinley. His party is the party of the past, the party of memory… Their pledge is to the status quo; and today there is no status quo.

Lesson #6: Articulate a vision. This is the point in the speech where JFK begins talking about the New Frontier, and he does it by anchoring it in the moment, the time and place where he is speaking:

For I stand here tonight facing west on what was once the last frontier. From the lands that stretch three thousand miles behind us, the pioneers gave up their safety, their comfort and sometimes their lives to build our new West…

Some would say that those struggles are all over, that all the horizons have been explored, that all the battles have been won, that there is no longer an American frontier. But I trust that no one in this assemblage would agree with that sentiment; for the problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won; and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier -- the frontier of the 1960's, the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats.

A little later he adds:

The New Frontier is here whether we seek it or not. Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered problems of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus.

Lesson #7: Include the audience, and ask not what you can do for them, but what they can do for their country:

But the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises. It is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer to the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride -- It appeals to our pride, not our security. It holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security.

It would be easier to shrink from that new frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past, to be lulled by good intentions and high rhetoric -- and those who prefer that course should not vote for me or the Democratic Party.
But I believe that the times require imagination and courage and perseverance. I'm asking each of you to be pioneers towards that New Frontier. My call is to the young in heart, regardless of age--to the stout in spirit, regardless of Party, to all who respond to the scriptural call: "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be [thou] dismayed."

That is the choice our nation must make -- a choice that lies not merely between two men or two parties, but between the public interest and private comfort, between national greatness and national decline, between the fresh air of progress and the stale, dank atmosphere of "normalcy;" between dedication and mediocrity.

All mankind waits upon our decision. A whole world looks to see what we shall do. And we cannot fail that trust. And we cannot fail to try.

Give me your help and your hand and your voice.”

That last phrase would be one JFK repeated many times on the campaign trail—a call to participation in his campaign.

The acceptance speech will be the first and last time of the general election campaign that the candidate has the attention of a large chunk of the electorate at one time for an uninterrupted statement of this length.

But it’s more than speaking to millions of voters, many of whom are just beginning to focus on the election. Obama’s previous big speeches were in the context of a primary campaign, when he had to distinguish himself and his message from several other candidates, and when he had particular limits on what he said about his opponents within the Democratic Party.

Now Obama can do what JFK did, and draw a direct contrast between himself as the Democratic candidate, and McCain as the Republican candidate. He can define the choice voters have in November.

But he is also speaking to Democrats and the people who have been with him so far. He can motivate them to work for him, which is especially important this year, for Obama needs highly motivated voters in several core groups, and enthusiastic volunteers to put the ground game in motion.

JFK managed to do both. Obama can, too. JFK inspired me, at 14 years old, to work for his campaign. His acceptance speech—which I recorded on our reel-to-reel tape recorder, and played for my social studies class—was a big reason why.
The Shock Doctrine

Since this blog is supposed to also be about "world affairs" a little time out at the movies. The Shock Doctrine is a book I'm on record admiring--after all, a quote from my SF Chronicle review leads the blurbs on the back of the paperback edition. But this six minute plus video can save you a lot of reading time, or just give you a great idea of what this book is about. It's time well spent.