Archive for category 2008 Election

Why Romney Will Lose

MItt Romney has spent more money, made more attacks, and has inspired less excitement and enthusiasm than any candidate of recent history

I was re-reading Game Change, a book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.   Two passages struck me:

“The candidates lined up at the urinals, Guiliani next to McCain next to Huckabee, the rest all in a row.  The debate was soon to start, so they were taking care of business — and laughing merrily at the one guy who wasn’t there.  Poking fun at him, mocking him, agreeing how much they disliked him.  Then Willard Mitt Romney walked into the bathroom and overheard them, bringing on a crashing silence.”  (Pgage 293)

and

“Unlike Guiliani, Romney had no reticence about slashing at his rivals.  But the perception of him as a man without convictions made him a less than effective delivery system for policy contrasts.  The combination of the vitriol of his attacks and his apparent corelessness explained the antipathy the other candidates had towards him.  McCain routinely called Romney an ‘asshole’ and a ‘fucking phoney.’  Guiliani opined, ‘that guy will say anything.’  Huckabee complained, ‘I don’t think Romney has a soul.’  (Page 294)

Romney was not well liked by Huckabee, Guiliani, and McCain!

Granted, that was in the heat of the 2008 race, but consider that even then Romney had a huge money and organizational advantage and he ended up succumbing quickly to John McCain — a man who had been considered dead a few months earlier due to a backlash in the GOP base against his stance on immigration reform.    McCain had even said “why would I want to lead a party of such assholes” (page 284).   But despite intense attacks from Limbaugh, Hannity and Glenn Beck, McCain emerged on top.

Fast forward to 2012.    Williard Mittington Romney again has a huge advantage, this time having the GOP establishment in his pocket moreso than in 2008.   Yet it seemed as if the Republicans were looking to find anyone else.  If there had been a man with the record and character of John McCain in the running, he’d no doubt have managed to overcome Romney.    But there wasn’t.

First was Bachmann, but she had no substance.   Then came Perry, and he turned out to be embarrassingly unable to hold his own in debates and public grilling — a male Palin, if you will.   Then they turned to Gingrich who, despite his numerous faults, was gaining traction and looked set to take down Romney.   Romney used his money advantage to go hyper-negative on Gingrich and destroyed him.   Gingrich was easy prey, to be sure, but still Romney couldn’t beat him by staying positive.  Then last was Santorum who stuck around despite being an improbable candidate who had even lost his Senate seat in an election that wasn’t close.   The Republicans had nowhere else to turn.   But Santorum was simply too out of touch and weak.   Romney emerged on top.

Unenthused

Simply, Romney hasn’t won by being himself or standing for something, he’s won inspite of the fact he can’t connect with voters and neither inspires nor excites.  Where he did win in the past — the Governship of Massachusetts — he did so by embracing traditional northeast Republican pragmatism.  He was pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and he created a health care program for the state that inspired much of what became Obamacare.   That path is gone.    However competent he may be for the office, he’s simply not a good candidate.  He’s speeches are boring, if he goes off script he sounds out of touch, and as a candidate he seems like a phoney.   Hardly anyone believes he meant all of what he said during the primary season.

Republicans try to console themselves with bouts of wishful thinking:

1.  It’s a referendum on Obama.   Here the thinking is that it doesn’t matter who the GOP candidate is, people are going to vote about the economy and whether or not they’re happy with Obama’s performance.   As long as Romney doesn’t implode, he can simply allow all the negative ads to work against Obama and eek out a victory.

The problem with that argument is first that Obama isn’t that unpopular.  His job approval rating is about 50%, which is on the low side for an incumbent (much like President Bush in 2004), but his personal approval remains high — Americans generally like their President.     While he’s not the rock star he was in 2008, he has a record and has disproven the “he’s a radical left wing extremist” rhetoric the GOP tried to use last time.

Second, the economy is enigmatic.   We’re growing, but growing slowly.   Jobs are returning, but returning slowly.   Obama didn’t fix it yet, but it was the GOP who broke it.   The economy really hurts a President when things look pretty good when he takes over and then fall apart on his watch.   That’s not the case with Obama.    This means that people aren’t simply going to vote one way or another in a knee jerk manner based on the economy, they’re going to consider the candidates.

Obama’s 2012 campaign ‘take off’ rallies were enthusiastic and large

2.   Obama’s lost his luster.   Here the thinking is that reality has bitten the young President, whose hair is now turning grey and who no longer arouses hope and the excitement of 2008.   As such, he’s vulnerable and weak.

The reason this would make a difference is that it could create an enthusiasm gap — Democrats won’t be as inspired and enthused as in 2008, while the Republicans will be focused on removing him from office.   Both look unlikely at this point.

Obama’s speeches are still powerful, and the Republicans have given him some assistance.    The extremist agenda and rhetoric of the tea party and the red meat primary campaign have galvanized Democrats.   Obama can point to achievements and skewer a “do nothing Congress.”     Obama would be in a lot more trouble if the Democrats had kept the House in 2010.

On the other hand, Republican enthusiasm for Romney is weak.  Voting turn out in GOP primaries was meager — sometimes in the single digits.  It’s not clear what the evangelical base will do in response to Romney’s Mormon faith.   At this point the “enthusiasm gap” looks almost certain to favor the President.

It’s early, things can change, but right now Mitt Romney looks to be a very weak candidate.  He’s never shown a capacity to connect with voters or inspire.   He’s relied on attacks and weak opposition.   Obama’s weathered just about every attack one can imagine.   His capacity to come out of nowhere to win in 2008 show that no matter what you think of Obama as President, he certainly is a strong candidate.

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The Definition Game

Now we know what the match up will be – Obama vs. Romney.    That ends the first phase of the Presidential campaign. Now the focus is on fund raising, planning the conventions, and assessing what is likely to work in the fall.

One thing that has to be done early in the campaign is to try to define your opponent.   If the public associates a certain image with a candidate, it can stick:  John Kerry was an out of touch elitist who windsurfs and likes France.   The now debunked “swiftboat” attacks on his service had an impact and undercut the benefits his war hero status should have brought.   Dukakis was a nerdy liberal intellectual who didn’t understand real America.

The Obama camp will try to define Mitt Romney as the aloof out of touch millionaire who flip flops and takes no stand on principle because he just wants so bad to be President.    If Romney tries to veer to the center and shed the more extreme sound bites of the early campaign it will feed the image of him as an unprincipled flip flopper.

This is the way the Obama camp wants to people to see Mitt Romney

The importance of this for the Obama campaign cannot be overstated.  In many ways Romney is a strong candidate.   He is a moderate, his business experience appeals to independents, and his time as Governor of Massachusetts proves he can work effectively with Democrats.   He is clearly no right wing ideologue and if the economy still looks bad in November, Romney is a safe alternative for centrists turned off by the right wing of the GOP.  In other words, Romney’s biggest weaknesses are personal.

It’s harder to define an incumbent.   It can be done – both President Carter and President Bush the Elder were defined as incompetent and inept.   The re-definition worked because the economy was bad — and that’s Romney’s hope for the fall.  The Romney camp will claim Barack Obama is a failed President who has not united the country nor fixed the economy.

The majority of the public in 2008 refused to buy the claim Obama was a strange "different" kind of President

Romney has tried to revive the attempt to define Obama as a strange leftist who may be a secret radical.   That ultimately failed in 2008 and it’s extremely unlikely to work in 2012.    Recently Romney called Obama the “hide and seek” President, who is concealing his “real” agenda.   That approach might fire up the base, but appears a bit desperate.   After all, President Obama governed his first two years with a strong Democratic majority.   If he was driven by a particular agenda, that’s when he could have gotten it done.    The President has in fact spent the last three years being criticized by his party’s left wing for being too moderate, too willing to work with Republicans, and for not fundamentally altering President Bush’s strategies in Afghanistan and Iraq.   The idea that was just a ruse designed to win a the second term when he’d unveil his real agenda is simply preposterous.   It’s unlikely he’ll ever have a Congress as friendly to his views as he did from 2009-2011.

That demonstrates Romney’s difficulty.   A lot of his base still have the 2008 campaign version of Obama in their heads — strange man, strange name, someone ‘not like us’ and potentially harboring anti-American or radical views.    Movements like the ‘birther’ movement reflect that fearful reaction to a candidate so different from those of the past.   Barack Obama represents what America is becoming, and the Tea Party movement in some part is driven by a nostalgia for the what America once was.

The Romney camp hopes to paint Obama as another Jimmy Carter, but Carter had far more foreign policy problems than Obama, and the election was at the start of a recession.

But the last four years have proven Obama to be a pragmatist, and certainly not on the left wing of the Democratic party. On the foreign policy front, the 2008 Obama clearly lacked foreign policy experience.  The McCain camp had a strong claim that we couldn’t turn over foreign policy stewardship to someone so inexperienced while the US was involved in two wars  and engaged in a counter-terrorism campaign.    McCain was a war hero with a long history of expertise on military issues.    McCain blew that advantage by his response to a domestic issue: the economic crisis.   While Obama seemed measured and calm, McCain suspended his campaign, decided to cancel the first debate but quickly changed his mind, and appeared ineffective at a White House meeting about how to respond to the crisis.   McCain looked impulsive and even reckless, Obama’s calm demeanor garnered trust.

Now foreign policy is a net winner for Obama, even while the right can raise numerous critiques.   So expect Romney to go back to the “failed President” who is a “divider not a uniter” and whose policies “if anything slowed the recovery.”  He can accuse the Democrats of  “class war” and offer himself as a pragmatist who can unite.    Simply, going after Obama personally isn’t going to work, it’ll make Romney look a little silly.    He has to focus on competence, results, and presenting a strong alternative.

If people are still talking about the etch a sketch candidate and Romney's apparently cruel treatment of his dog (putting him a carrier atop the car on a long cross country trip), Obama will likely have it won.

If Obama succeeds in defining Romney and the public perception by October is shaped by stories of Romney’s dog, clips of flip flops, and Romney as out of touch and not connecting, Obama’s chances for re-election are very strong.   If not, Romney still needs to rely on the economy being at least soft in order to make his case.   If the economy is seen as strengthening even slightly, Obama has the advantage.   At this point the odds favor Obama, but the “definition game” remains crucial.

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The Political Pendulum

After the 2008 election Democrats were on a high.    President Barack Obama had been elected as the first black President, the Democrats controlled both the Senate and the House, and demographics seemed to indicate that if anything, their future  was brighter than ever.   President Bush left office as one of the least popular Presidents in history, being blamed for a dubious war in Iraq and an economic crisis that hurled the US into recession.

Yet the pendulum swung.   The depth and severity of the recession proved greater than the Obama White House had anticipated, and with the Democrats in control of government they were blamed for anything that went wrong.   After health care reform was pushed through just barely, yielding a compromise that angered conservatives and many liberals alike, President Obama found the honey moon over.   The tea party movement achieved amazing success at shaping the political discourse, and a new narrative took hold.

This narrative said that President Obama’s policies were hindering the recovery, that the stimulus was a waste of money and a failure, and that the raw politicking of the health care deal showed the shady side of Democratic politics.    Republicans said the real solution to the problems the country faces is smaller government and fiscal conservatism.   The hope and change promised by the Democrats was just more tax and spend — more government programs.

In 2010 the GOP achieved dramatic success, something unexpected after two election cycles dominated by the Democrats.   Without the drag of the Iraq war and with President Obama “owning” the economy (even though neither he nor Bush ever could control it) the public swung right.   Some of it was fear that change was going too fast; others thought the Democrats simply moved farther and faster than the public wanted.  President Obama’s approval ratings dropped down below 50%.

Yet even as the Republicans start to lick their chops over electoral prospects in 2012, the pendulum may be swinging again.   The President’s approval ratings are still bad, but they are picking up slightly.   Don’t forget, President Clinton had 40% approval in early 1995, and Reagan dropped to 38% for awhile in 1983.   President Obama is now at about 43%.

The mood seems to be changing.  E J Dionne notes this “narrative change,” citing Paul Ryan’s somewhat bitter speech to the Heritage Foundation as evidence that Republicans recognize that the argument is slipping away from them.   Occupy Wall Street has shown itself more popular and resilient than anyone expected, and the efforts to paint them as a bunch of spoiled hippies and malcontents has failed.     President Obama’s “new populism” is hitting a chord.   Americans don’t want massive redistribution and high taxes, but the idea that the system is unbalanced in favor of the wealthy is gaining traction.

Moreover, the Republican party doesn’t seem to have a clear leader, and their primaries have been dominated by sometimes extreme rhetoric that scares independents.   Herman Cain wants an abortion ban with no exceptions, not even for rape and incest.   That kind of talk scares people.   Michelle Bachmann’s call to bring taxes back to the level they were under Ronald Reagan is illustrative.    Taxes were much higher under Reagan than they are now; as she had to retreat from that statement it reinforced the idea that Reagan would be far too liberal for today’s GOP.    The narrative of an extremist Republican party is building.   Rick Perry’s assault on social security addsto that as the GOP Presidential field tries to capture the tea party electorate that vote in early primaries.

Mitt Romney should be a strong candidate.  He is clearly a moderate who shouldn’t scare anyone, but his Mormonism and moderation might actually decrease conservative enthusiasm in 2012.   He’s benefited from the turmoil in the GOP field, but the Republican party has lost control of the conversation.   Instead of Reaganesque optimism the tune from the right is increasingly antagonistic.

Meanwhile, Democrats in the House start whispering that there are a lot of vulnerable Republicans, especially first termers, who are having trouble raising money and whose ideological voting records don’t play well at home.    All Democrats expect gains in 2012; the idea of winning back the House is not as far fetched as it used to be.

Right now the conventional wisdom remains that President Obama is, if not the underdog, in a difficult position heading into the re-election fight.   But at this point in 2009, when Obama was still above 50% in approval, few people realized that the pendulum had already started a decisive swing away from the Democrats and towards the Republicans.

It’s still too early to know for sure if the pendulum is swinging back in the Democrat’s direction.   Obama is getting kudos for success in Libya, he announced the end of the Iraq war, and there may be an end in Afghanistan sooner than people expect.   The economic news has become slightly more optimistic.    Occupy Wall Street has stolen the attention that the tea party used to enjoy and has spread across the country, gaining a lot of support from Iraq veterans.    In states like Ohio, Wisconsin and even here in Maine conservative causes have led to dissatisfaction — ballot initiatives in both Ohio and Maine might be very telling about the way the mood is changing (Ohio’s involves public labor unions, Maine’s is an effort to undo Republican legislation removing same day voting registration).

It feels like the pendulum has switched directions.   It feels like 2012 could be for the Democrats what 2010 was for the Republicans.   It feels like Obama may join Presidents Clinton and Reagan in the catagory of having their political obituaries written too soon.   Time will tell — there is still a lot that could go right or wrong for both parties.     The good news about the political pendulum is that if you’re on the losing side of an election, it won’t be that way forever.   The bad news is that if you’re on the winning side the same applies.

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Obama Should Go to Wall Street

Pundits used to 20th Century politics are mystified by the growing “Occupy Wall Street” movement, now spreading to other cities.   Like the conservative tea party movement two years ago, its growth comes through new media, a real dissatisfaction with how things are going, and is not centered around specific demands and agendas.    Starting small and overlooked in the media, it has grown in breadth and scope and can no longer be ignored.

This creates a problem for President Obama.   Obama is a centrist establishment Democrat who despite achieving some significant reforms in health care, finance, stimulus spending and repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” has tried to find common ground with the Republicans.   It appeared he was going to succeed too, until the “tea party” movement pushed John Boehner farther right then he originally wanted to go.  Fearing wrath from the right, establishment Republicans are running scared and engage in a more ideological and uncompromising rhetoric than any time in the past, including the years of hostility to President Clinton.

Establishment Democrats have responded to this by shifting right; Obama is no exception.  He embraced lowering domestic spending to that of any time since the Eisenhower administration, calling for closing of loopholes for the wealthy (like Reagan did) rather than an increase in tax rates on the wealthy, and making regulatory calls which infuriate environmentalists and the left.     While his approval rating suffered — probably 15% of the ‘disapprove’ comes from the left — it appeared that liberals had no alternative.  There simply is no pressure from the left:  no movement, no leader and no alternative.

The calculus in the Obama camp is that an intense campaign combined with fear of the GOP will bring the base home.   Republican candidates are weak and vulnerable to negative campaigning that will scare independents into grudgingly vote for Obama as the safer choice.   If there is a strong movement on the left, however, Obama might find hostility growing much like Johnson did in the Vietnam war.   The most intense protests of 1968 were at the Democratic national convention, after all.

But while the protests are dangerous for Obama, they also represent an opportunity for him to harness the emotion and anger on the street and rekindle the kind of energy that brought him to office in 2008.    It won’t be easy — many on the left have become hostile towards a man they believe has drifted to the right of even former President Bush — but it is possible.

The first thing he should do is announce that he is going to Wall Street to talk with the protesters and give a major speech.   This should be scheduled for late October, assuring that the protest movement will continue and grow — they won’t give up if the President is planning to visit.    In the meantime the President should hone his populist rhetoric to support a key argument:  “I tried to meet the Republicans half way, recognizing that we need to work together to solve the problems we face.   They refused, saying it was their way or no way.   So now I’m taking the argument to the people — I’m asking the American people to send a strong message that things need to change.”

On Wall Street, a place where the Obama campaign raised so much money in 2008, and whose banks have benefited from Obama’s reluctance to anger the business elite, he should declare a new agenda:

1) Reform of the tax code to simplify and make more fair a system that currently taxes the middle class and poor too much, and allows the wealthy to use accountants and tax lawyers to evade paying their fair share.   Yeah, he’ll be charged with class warfare, but he should counter by saying it’s not the rich who are at fault, but the politicians.   The wealthy are simply acting rationally by trying to pay the legal minimum tax they owe — that’s what almost everyone does, Republican or Democrat.   If they aren’t paying their fair share it’s the fault of Washington for making a complex, screwed up and often absurd tax system.   The tax system should be made simpler, more fair and clear.

2) A jobs program that aims at rebuilding the middle class and America’s productive capacity.   The poor and unemployed aren’t lazy — they want to work.  The system that benefited unproductive financial industries who built bubbles based on bizarre financial instruments like Collateralized Debt Obligations and Credit Default Swaps should give way to a system that benefits main street businesses and people who want to produce stuff that other people want.    A strong middle class is the determinate of a state’s economic health.   Our middle class is battered and torn, and that damages the country.

3)  Honest talk about debt.   He should tell the young people gathered that their generation will inherit a country that has to sell itself off to foreigners thanks to the massive debt the last generation has built up.   Starting in 1982 the US has embraced “borrow and spend,” ignoring increased debt.   Government has done this, so has the private sector.    For a long time the problem could be ignored because unemployment was low and the bubble economy made it appear wealth was strong.    Now we see that global debt has created a crisis as bad as the last great depression, but one that cannot be cured with more debt or dismissing this as just part of the business cycle.

The US has to rethink its approach to everything from foreign policy to domestic programs; we can’t afford the kind of budget we’ve had in the past, but we also can’t afford to just cut, since spending cuts can slow the economy.    A smart mix of revenue increases, spending cuts, and investments in jobs can turn this around, though it will require global cooperation.

Obama needs to focus on these themes and embrace a populism that can appeal to independents as well as the youth.   The fact is that those who dismiss the protests as meaningless do not understand them.   It’s just like the old hands in the Arab world who couldn’t comprehend the changes being pushed by protesters from Egypt to Yemen.   This is no longer the 2oth Century.   Political activism is changing, and the ideas and energy being generated in New York is not going to dissipate.   Energy and activism may wax and wane, but a new movement is being born.

To win re-election, Obama needs to show the protesters that despite his slow start, he understands that the country needs fundamental change.    While one can say he’s blown the chance by being so establishment in his first four years, in the campaign he won’t run against Obama of ’08 but a real Republican candidate with whom he can compare himself.  He’ll also have a lot of money to get his message out.

Moreover, this message can appeal to independents.  Most aren’t ideological — if they were, they wouldn’t be independent.   They’ve shown they can vote Democratic or Republican, depending on their mood or assessment of whether what’s being done is working.   If Obama can make a credible argument that he stands for simpler taxes, a more ambitious jobs plan, and an honest discussion of debt, then as we get into the dog days of the campaign people currently disillusioned thanks to the economy may decide Obama is their best bet.

But he has to go to Wall Street.   He can’t ignore a movement driven by the same emotions and ideals that brought so much energy to his campaign in 2008.

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Lessons from the Wisconsin Recall

The recall elections in Wisconsin are almost finished — the final two Democrats up for recall are not considered in serious trouble — and overall it looks like the Democrats managed to recall two of six Republican Senators, not enough to put the State Senate in the hands of the Democrats.

Republicans are happy with the result.  They kept control of the Senate and can claim a victory despite losing two members.    Democrats can take solace in the fact that they were going against Republicans who had won their districts in 2008, a year when Obama took Wisconsin and the public was in a far more Democratic mood.   The fact that the Democrats could bat .333 in such districts — and come within two percentage points of taking a district that hasn’t gone Democrat since 1896 — should give them pause.   They didn’t get a victory so much as dodge a bullet.

Democrats privately had admitted they were only likely to win two — though they hoped for the third (and got close).  But many on the more liberal wing of the party had convinced themselves that public rage against Governor Walker and the GOP, along with voter enthusiasm on the left, would give them more — some thought a sweep possible.   For them this is disappointing, their chance to send a message failed.

The other day I had a post critical of a group Norbrook named the “Frustrati,” — progressives convinced that the only thing Democrats lack are leaders willing to take strong liberal stances and refuse to compromise.  They believe the public will reward strength and principle, and that Obama and Reid have been too willing to work with the GOP.    This election should give them pause.   Even with a very energized and hard working base fervently trying to win at least three elections voters didn’t vote that much different than they did before.   Republicans can also argue that the two who lost were in trouble for personal reasons, that stronger candidates would have won.

Put bluntly: people on both sides of the political spectrum over-estimate how much the voting public agrees with their side.    Each will cherry pick issue polls, look at particular races (e.g., the Democratic victory in a Republican district in New York earlier this year) and read into them a national mood or trend.  The fact is that the country voted overwhelmingly Democratic in 2006 and 2008, willing to elected an untested Barack Hussein Obama who was accused of being far left and somehow not truly American.   Then in 2010 an admittedly smaller electorate turned around and voted a stunning number of Democrats out of office in the House to take control.    The only reason the Democrats held the Senate was that they had few seats up for re-election.   If the 20+ seats up in 2012 had been on the line in 2010, Mitch McConnell would again be Majority leader.

There’s only one way to read that.   The voting public is neither liberal nor conservative.   People do not equate political ideology with principle.   Principles are what guide every day personal choices and ethical perspectives.   Politics is about making deals, compromising, and solving problems.   Pragmatism is the quintessential American philosophy.    People will vote one year for someone whose principles are informed by liberal or even Social Democratic values, then turn around the next time and vote for someone who embraces very conservative views.

Any party that over-estimates the appeal of its own ideology risks overreaching and causing the public to correct the situation in the next election.   Any party that refuses to compromise or show an understanding of different perspectives will be seen as intransigent and unable to govern.   And, though parties must keep their bases in line, giving their base too much power can doom them in the next election.

Right now the Republicans believe Obama is vulnerable in 2012 and the GOP can gain control of the Senate.   They see the potential of repealing the health care reform, dramatically cutting spending, and steeply downsizing government.   Many think that’s the only way to deal with the economic crisis.    If they hang around right wing blog sites and talk with like minded folk, they’ll bolster each others opinions and start to believe their view is self-evidently correct, and that compromise is therefore weakness and wrong.     But so far the more Social Democratic countries of Scandinavia are in less economic trouble than we are, their way is one way to respond, but not the only way.

Obama is vulnerable (though not dead in the water as some believe), but it’s not because Americans have done an ideological flip flop.   Rather, Americans are frustrated about the economy and if they see Obama as ineffective they’ll consider trying something else.    If the Republicans over-reach or show too much ideological stridency, they could lose the House (many tea party Congressfolk are in clear danger) or even cause people willing to vote against Obama to see him as a safer bet.

Democrats have to take from this that the energy of their base is not enough to win the hearts and minds of  voters.   President Obama isn’t having trouble because he’s weak or a bad President, anyone would be having trouble with this economy.  Moreover, you can’t just give beautiful speeches and stand firm and expect the other party to crumble.  The Republicans control the House — some on the left fall victim to groupthink and under estimate the ability of the GOP leaders in the House to play a high stakes game.   Obama can’t force them to vote for what he wants.

Rather, they have to recognize that given the current economic conditions the ideological appeal of big government is probably at a low ebb.  The public wants someone who will talk seriously about reducing debt, solving problems and making compromises.   Despite the problems Obama’s had with the economy, his approval isn’t any worse than Ronald Reagan’s was in the third year of his Presidency.   Obama’s obvious pragmatism and patience is one reason he is still favored by many to win re-election — people may be upset he hasn’t been able to fix the economy, but the 2010 image of Obama as an over-reaching liberal has given way to Obama as a conciliator.     The Democrats best bet in 2012 is to grab the center and hold it as firmly as they can, allowing the tea party rhetoric sure to be flying furiously in the primary season define the GOP.   That doesn’t guarantee victory (though if it were combined with a rebounding economy in 2012 it could come close), but it assures a competitive election.

The Republicans dodged a bullet but risk not learning their lesson.  The bravado of John Boehner saying he got 98% of what he wanted may mollify the base, but risks turning off a public not keen on ideology.    Did 98% of what he wanted guarantee a downgrade?   They have every reason to believe that 2012 will be the second part of the kind of two election cycle the Democrats enjoyoed in ’06 and ’08.   But it’s not guaranteed — and too much red meat for the base may come back to haunt them, they could be their own biggest obstacle to a successful 2012 election.

Both sides should take Wisconsin seriously.   Democrats have to realize the country isn’t mad at the GOP and willing to march boldly to the left.   Republicans shouldn’t think the US embraced tea party ideals and is swinging to the right.   Whoever occupies the center in 2012 is most likely to win.   For the Republicans that would be the safest strategy.   For the Democrats it’s essential.

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Palin a Shooting Star

Sarah Palin’s surreal resignation has sparked considerable debate and speculation.    Is she preparing for another scandal, perhaps one involving her house in Wasilla?   Rumors have been flying around the internet about a possible state or federal investigation.    Palin only made it worse by threatening to sue major media outlets and bloggers who mention that speculation.    I don’t think she realizes that the media relishes the chance to stand up to such a threat, especially when it is as impotent as that one, and serves only to make her look silly.

Perhaps a scandal is afoot, perhaps she was too thin skinned to simply accept that she’d get some negative media and couldn’t take the heat, perhaps she had some wild fantasy that this could launch a national campaign, but the fact of the matter is Sarah Palin’s chance for the political limelight is over.   She’s committed the crime of hypocrisy (quitting after earlier condemning quitters), poor planning (an impulsive resignation combined with a rambly, even pathetic speech), no follow through (she disappeared on July 4th — though at least she made no claim to be hiking the Appalachian trail), and pouting.   She whined about negative media, played the victim, and seemed to think that the only legitimate coverage of her was that from the fawning activist right wing (by that I do not mean Republicans and average conservatives, most of whom were not wowed by her at all — instead I mean the Limbaugh ‘all Liberals are evil’ minority who have tried to hijack the GOP) who ignored her short comings.  Some say that the neo-cons were trying to groom her to be a pro-Israel  hawk that they could control, others think she was simply in over her head.  I believe she is just a shooting star who is starting to fade.

Most will read the 300 words of this post until this point to be very negative, and even mean.   Yet look at what was written about Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and other big name politicians by those who opposed them.  Clinton was a draft dodging traitor who sold out to Red China, Obama a radical socialist Muslim who wasn’t really born in Hawaii, W. Bush a boozing frat boy who can’t think straight and is driven by some kind of belief in his holy mission, Hillary a lesbian power hungry unethical she-wolf who devours opponents whole and had a close associate killed in 1993…well, you get the picture.   Anyone who is anything in politics gets a huge dose of unfair criticism, often over the top.

The criticism of Palin is minor compared to the examples listed above, yet it stung more, in part because it seemed  to fit.    Palin did not seem ready for the big leagues, and the fact that John McCain chose her in his first “Presidential” decision is a big reason why he had no real shot at winning the election.  It’s not that Palin is uniquely bad or inept as a person;  rather, she is bad and inept at being a national politician ready to take control of the country.

So am I.   If I were suddenly in the limelight, scrutinized by the media and having everything I do and have done under investigation, I’d be a failure.  I’d commit gaffes, have to defend outlandish things I’ve said from time to time, and would not be careful about what I said or when I said it.   It takes a special kind of person who can handle the pressure of being on the national stage and being effective.  Obama has what it takes.   Even Bush the Younger, despite failings as a President, could handle that national stage.   Sarah Palin, like me and probably 98% of the rest of the country, just doesn’t have what it takes.

It’s as if a football fan were suddenly to don a jersey and be given the handoff in a pro game, with the defense thinking they’re going after a top notch running back.  Without the proper training and preparation not only would the fan be tackled instantly, but probably would be injured badly.   Going from small town mayor to Alaskan governor simply was not enough to prepare Palin.   She was hit by a media and opposition used to going after the pros.    She couldn’t take it and with the help of a few enablers flailed back with self-pitying attacks on those who dared criticize her or her family.  It’s sexism!  East coast liberal elitism!  Media bias!   No.  It’s just the political game she happened to find herself a part of; after all, within the GOP and even the McCain campaign similar things were being said.  It wasn’t all from the Left.

Still, one can see why she caught McCain’s imagination.  At first even I thought that it was a smart pick, contradicting myself a couple days later to re-label it a dumb pick. She looked good on paper — mother raising a family, conservative yet young — a woman in the year Hillary lost to the surprising Barack Obama.  If she had the acumen to play effectively on the national stage, and the understanding of national politics to jump into a campaign, she’d have been a super star.  As it was, she was like most of us — probably smart and reasonably knowledgable, but not ready to be put in the political limelight.   She did capture the imagination of some on the right, and for awhile seemed to have the potential to make a dash at the 2012 Republican nomination, especially if other top Republicans feared going against an incumbent Obama.

Now, that lays in shambles.  It’s not just what she did, it’s how she did it, and the fact it opens questions about a possible scandal.  Even if she just wanted  to set herself up for 2012, it did the opposite.   It means she ends up with about 17 months of being a Governor atop being mayor of a small town, and leaving that town in debt with a white elephant sports complex as her major “accomplishment.”  She looks like an under-accomplished quitter, rather than an up and coming star.

Yet perhaps it’s for the best.   She may have realized she was in over her head.  Or worse, she may have believed some of the hype and still  thinks she can make a splash.  If so, she’s setting herself up for disappointment.  Assuming I’m right and she ends up fading away, a shooting start that just couldn’t handle the pressure, she’ll end up as one of the strangest side stories of what was an historical and exciting 2008 election.

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Illusions shatter in 2008

Some glimpses at the world in 2008:  In the African country of Zimbabwe almost a third of the population is dying as the country implodes due to the intransigence of Robert Mugabe, a former freedom fighter against white oppression who has become a tyrant willing to sacrifice his own population to protect his ego.  Although this crisis has been building for nearly a decade, with tremendous inflation and injustice, now children are literally wasting away as food scarcity grows and the government denies anything is wrong.

In Gaza a population suffering malnutrition, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chaos now faces an assault from Israel.  The Israelis are angry about rockets being shot at their citizens by a Hamas, an extremist militia.   The situation is complex, but one thing is true on both sides: the people who suffer the most are the innocents who happen to live in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In the US people are reeling from the onset of an economic crisis so severe that 2008 may be remembered alongside 1929 in terms of heralding a deep recession.  Events in September and October led to a financial crisis that has no easy way out.   This crisis is not just about banks or credit, but 30 years of unsustainable economic policies that need to be rebalanced.

2008 was also the year when the US finally recognized that its long term plans for a democratic Iraq as an American ally and model for the region was not achievable, and decided to cut its loses and find a way out.

In Afghanistan the Taliban is resurgent, al qaeda still operative, and most NATO countries are reducing their contribution.   While the US is likely to increase its forces in the country, there is no military solution for Afghanistan, the country is too large and US military options limited.

In 2008 the American public, sensing that things have gone very wrong in recent years, embraced a change in politics, building on the shift to the Democrats and the left started in 2006.  Barack Hussein Obama, a relatively inexperienced Senator from Illinois, a black man with a funny name, was elected President.   His calm, confident and intelligent demeanor inspired trust and hope, something the American people haven’t had for their political leaders for some time.   Obama’s election also surprised much of the world, he is so different from the kind of leader Americans usually embrace.   After President Bush’s earlier “with us or against us” errors of bluster and arrogance (which he himself stepped back from), Obama’s election creates a bit of good will internationally.

Obama’s election was also part of a year of wild political news, ranging from John McCain’s improbable comeback to win the GOP nomination, the long drawn out and sometimes bitter fight between Obama and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination (ending with Clinton as Obama’s choice to be Secretary of State), and the weird but entertaining choice of Sarah Palin to be McCain’s running mate.   To top off all this political drama, disgraced Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich just chose Roland Burris to replace Obama in the Senate, defying Democratic party leaders who did not want him to make a choice.  I think the Senate should seat Burris, who has done nothing wrong, but egos are involved and expect the drama to continue.

2008 saw wild swings in the price of oil.   Production is level, and demand is inelastic.  That means that slight changes in demand not caused by changes in supply can yield rapid and dramatic price fluctuations.   That certainly happened this year!   The high prices earlier put us on notice that oil production cannot rise as fast as demand at stable prices — if the economy grows, oil prices will go up dramatically.   The recession gives us a respite, but it doesn’t make the problem go away.

The year also had it’s share of natural disaster — my first WordPress blog entry was about Nargis, a storm which hit Burma back in May, causing massive death and destruction.

So the year was historic, dramatic, with its share of bad news.  It was the perfect year to start a blog about ‘an era of crisis and transformation.’   The theme of 2008 to me is the shattering of illusions.  To be sure, some of these illusions were dispelled in 2006 and 2007, but in 2008 the process reached its peak, people realize we live in a different world than we thought, and so much of the past 20 years or so has been built on unsustainable practices.  The illusions now shattered:

1) The fundamentals of the economy are strong.  No.  The fundamentals have been wildly out of balance for almost three decades, and rebalancing will be painful and force the US to start producing again, and living within our means;

2) The US is the dominant world power.  No.  The US has had to define success way down in Iraq in order to create the chance for a face saving way out, and in Afghanistan seven years after the war started the Taliban is resurgent and NATO speaks of the possibility of defeat.  Both of these would have been seen as absurdly defeatist if predicted five years ago.  The US has a strong military, but in an era of terrorism and asymmetrical warfare, our capacity to win wars against large armies is overshadowed by the inability of military power to shape political results.   This isn’t anything against our military — they are tremendously effective at what they are trained to do.    But winning wars is different than nation building, and military power is only one dimension of effective counter-terrorism.

Given that and the prominence of economic factors, the world is now multipolar rather than unipolar, and globalization is trumping sovereignty.  Americans are slowly grasping that we can’t hold ourselves aloof from the world or comfort ourselves with myths that we’re better than others and they’re just jealous.  That illusion was dangerous.

3) Americans could never vote for an urbane, intellectual black candidate for President, especially if his name contains “Hussein” and rhymes with Osama.   The American people have never been on the “talk radio right” the way it seemed to many in recent years, nor are they partisan Democrats.  Despite the red-blue map most Americans are purple — centrist and pragmatic.  (And as a Minnesota Vikings fan, I like purple).

For all the drama and turmoil of the last year, 2008 is almost certain to be remembered as the start of a major transformation of US and perhaps world politics.   We have been brought back to reality, we now recognize the limits of our power, and the foolishness of living a debt-based existence beyond our means.  We realize that while our values are strong, we haven’t really being following them, seduced into a hyper-consumerist nationalist orgy of arrogance and denial.

The transition is just beginning.  The left hasn’t quite figured out how to reconcile their ambitious social agenda with a weakened economy.  They need to put interest-group oriented politics aside and work for pragmatic compromises with the right.   The right hasn’t figured out how to let go of the conservative populism of people like Limbaugh and Hannity, and recognize the need for multi-lateralism and pragmatism.  2009 is a year both political parties will need to reconstruct themselves to face reality.

And, though we face a recession, severe foreign policy challenges, and a world still riddled with crisis and instability, there is something cathartic about realizing that we at least started to put misguiding illusions aside and are beginning to understand the challenges ahead.    To solve any problem one first has to admit there is a problem.    Our illusions allowed us to live in denial for far too long.  That time is over.

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Youth Power!

It never fails.  When I talk with my slightly older colleagues about today’s college students, they will often complain about the lack of engagement and energy by young Americans.  Rather than protest and idealistically seek some kind of alternative understanding of reality, they play gameboys or get lost in facebook and IM.   Yet something happened in this election campaign — the generation of 2008 handed the 1968s a lesson in political efficacy that can’t go unnoticed.

In 1968 the active, protesting youth gathered in Grant Park in Chicago to challenge Mayor Daley’s police and the Democratic convention, which had just nominated Minnesotan Hubert Humphrey for the Presidency.   The result was violence, injury and disorder, all of which combined with a year of protest and anger to create the impression that the country was on the verge of anarchy.   Young people were making themselves heard, and they had a political impact: the scared silent majority rushed to support Richard Nixon, and the Republican party appeared a safe alternative to this crazy new politics of radicalism and protest embraced by young activists.  Even after the 68ers settled down and became “establishment,” they held their own activism in a kind of romantic myth: they were the generation that rose up and made a statement.   Today’s youth are more interested in their future bank statements.

Yet the generation of 08 has accomplished something that the 68ers couldn’t.  They determined the winner of an American election, and put the country on a new path.  Rather than protesting in the streets, they were out volunteering and organizing.  Rather than scaring the middle class with radical attacks on the status quo, they inspired the middle class by working within the system to improve it.  This includes McCain supporters as well as Obama volunteers, though the latter were far more numerous.  Statistics show a sharp increase in voter turnout, and without the youth vote the election would have gone the other way.  Young people made a difference.

It’s common place for every generation to complain about the “youth.”  They are always considered lazier than the generation before, less engaged, and more prone to weird fads or strange music.  In the case of the current “millenial” cohort, the claim is that they are less self-motivated, more needy of instructions, and focused too much on internet style information — fast, bullet pointed, and less time and patience for context.  While there may be some truth to those criticisms, let’s put them in context.

The generation of the 68ers may have been willing to protest and embrace a counter-cultural approach, but their cohort had numerous failings as well.  Drug use and addiction grew, people disconnected from society, and the counter culture often developed without thoughtful reflection on  the culture they were rebelling against.   They emotionally connected with worthy causes — civil rights, opposition to the Vietnam war, and more individual freedom — but it was often reactive rather than thoughtful.   Not by everyone, but many simply went with the crowd, it was fun and ‘the thing to do.’

The 08ers are from a generation that is used to the internet.  Teaching at a university I’ve watched the subtle change in students from the early nineties to the present, as technology spread and the internet became ubiquitious.  At the same time, it’s interesting to see how “common knowledge” has changed as well.  It struck me in the election campaign that John McCain’s complaints about being compared to George Wallace, or arguments about Obama as ‘socialist’ were totally meaningless to most young people.   William Ayres or Rev. Wright’s causes, which caused outrage amongst some of the 50+ crowd who remember those battles, were irrelevant side shows.  Their world is not the cold war world of communism vs. capitalism, or the left as some kind of radical “marxist” alternative.  Those things are no longer part of the culture, they are anachronisms that Obama knew to let go of, but the GOP did not.

All of this worries the older crowd, right and left alike.  The youth don’t have the depth of knowledge of the past that they should, don’t think about the ideological debates as much, and lack a sense of world history.  What they miss is that the youth replace what they lack with a new approach to thinking about politics and the world.  Ideology tends to bore them.  It’s dogmatic and their world is defined by multiplicity and overlapping perspectives.   They also have learned the hard way not to trust the emotions of nationalism and militarism.  Most were supportive of the Iraq war back in junior high, because that was simply the way everyone was.  They watched as the war went sour and moved almost completely to the anti-war camp.  They don’t trust dogmatic emotional politics, and they clearly see patriotism as being about engagement rather than simply supporting the state.

While this new mentality overwhelmingly supported Obama, young Republicans are also coming of age, recognizing that their party is in need of change.  Most were not impressed with Palin, and are skeptical of social conservatives.  They are worried about the size of government and tend to see the world as more dangerous than young Democrats.  They also share the dislike of ideology, and many seemed uninspired by McCain’s negative campaign, aimed at the older generation that still thinks socialists may be out to take over.  They want a positive, innovative voice for the GOP that shares Obama’s pragmatism, but emphasizes smaller government and effective reaction to global threats.

I suspect young Republicans will get their 21st century GOP.   The old crop of Republican leaders were deluded by the success of the past 25 years into thinking that the old formula for success could still work.  But Democratic and Republican alike, the youth is showing the country that they are ready to act and be heard.  They won’t be screaming in protests that much, or part of the “impeach Bush” or “Obama is a socialist” mutual hatred society that defines too much of the political spectrum.  They’ll be out organizing, fighting for causes, and working together, Republicans and Democrats alike, on shared causes like human rights, global warming and Darfur.  My generation has run up a massive debt, partied the economy away, and has left the country in a mess.  This generation seems ready to make a difference.

The older generation always underestimates the youth.   And no generation is perfect.  But now, 40 years after the protests of 1968, massive numbers of youth again met in Grant park in Chicago, but now peacefully to celebrate how their hard work created an major and powerful shift in American politics, with the vote and energy of the youth the key to Obama’s victory.   Symbolically they showed the 68ers that hard work is more effective than anger and screaming.   Watching an engaged campus, talking to Obama supporters, College Republicans, and other students, some starting groups like a campus chapter of Amnesty International, I am more confident of this generation of students to be a positive force for change than at any time I can remember.   That’s good — we need them!

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Obama Mysogyny

Satire Alert: For those who are humor impared, this is a satire of the silly anti-Obama websites put up by so-called Hillary supporters who soldier on, despite failing to stop Obama.  The sites being satired: Hillbuzz, The Confluence, Noquarter and Texas Darling.  I am, for the record, an Obama supporter.  Start satire now:

Obama Mysogyny

Well, it had to happen, didn’t it.  For Barack Obama, it wasn’t enough to steal the election from first Hillary Clinton and then John McCain, now he has the unmitigated gall to foist the most shameful humiliation onto Hillary Clinton.  He must delight in demeaning women and sticking a fork into Hillary Clinton, despite the fact his minions like Howard Dean and Donna Brazile forced her to pretend to support him during the election campaign.  Now President Elect Barry Sorterobama wants the most distinguished Senator and should-be President Elect to become nothing but a mere Secretary.  Kicked in the shins so often by the party that they built from the ashes left by Obama’s intellectual mentor, Jimmy Carter, the Clintons seem willing to consider it.

Yes, word is that Hillary Clinton is being considered for the position of Secretary of state.   Can you believe it!  Clearly, Obama knows that his path to power is not complete.  There are law suits pending, proving that he was born in either Kenya, Indonesia, or that he renounced his citizenship and thus is not a legal American citizen.  That means that there are three other possibilities than his having been born in Hawaii as he claims.  That’s a one in four chance, only a 25% probability he’s a native born citizen.  That alone should get him disqualified.  Perhaps he knows that secret paperwork from Kenya is on its way, and he wants Hillary out of the way.

The electoral college has also not spoken.   What will happen when the video that the Obama campaign has paid Fox news millions of dollars not to release — the one showing Michelle Obama screaming “death to f***ing Whitie!” while wearing a T-shirt of Adolf Hitler in black face with the caption “we need one of these!” — finally gets released?  Will the electors still vote for this Muslim who worships in a racist Christian church?

Or, perhaps, he simply wants to prove to Hillary that he is dominant, and she is nothing but a Secretary.  Instead of chugging down Crowne Royal with the unemployed steelworkers of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, she’ll have to sip fine wine with French President Sarkozy and his model wife.  Yup.  Hillary will be forced to hobnob with women who defy her spunk and energy and instead simply want to be beautiful and snag a powerful husband.  Instead of beer in Columbus, it’ll be tea with the pinky extended with the Queen in Buckingham palace?  Can you think of anything more demeaning?

Recently an insightful Georgia Congressman compared Obama to Hitler.  Hitler should be the one feeling insulted.  Hitler was a courageous courrier in World War I, a job with 80% mortality rates.  He was an artist, a soldier and he suffered in prison for his political views.   If you doubt Obama is worse than Hitler, can you see Hitler embracing the teachings of Reverend Wright?  Obama, on the other hand, is an empty suit.  Moreover, he’s an obviously evil empty suit because he’s managed to fake accomplishments like graduating from Harvard Law school, serving as the first Black Harvard Law Review chief editor, working in community action, serving in the Illinois Senate and then moving on to the United States Senate.  All these “accomplishments”, as well as his campaign and debates have fooled Americans into not recognizing he’s just an empty suit.   Clearly, the media has been in on the scam from day one.

Why?  Well, it’s clear Obama is a Marxist.  He had classes with Marxist professors in college, and we know how hard you have to look to find a Marxist in academia!  He never came clean on his relationship with William Ayres, including the allegations that they have had a homosexual love affair for years, including a sado-masochistic ritual with the safe words “bomb the Pentagon!”  Clearly, this is a man bent on destroying America.

But most import to us Hillary Clinton supporters, he wants to destroy the one savior who could unite the country and bring us to a new paradise.  Instead of the gritty and determined heroine, we get this guy who people treat as the messiah, “the One,” adoring him and looking over obvious hypocrisies.  Hillary is honest and forthright.  Yeah, she told us she supported Obama and she campaigned for him, but that was because Howard Dean and Donna Brazile threatened her, and her loyalty to the Democratic party — a trait that shows strength — meant she felt she had to support a man she knows isn’t up for the job.  What a woman she is!  Can we have Hillary back, PLEASE?

I’m sure Obama is a decent father, his kids seem to like him, and I’m not saying he is himself fundamentally evil.  But we don’t know him.  We do know that he went to a racist church, likely muttering “Amen” to Rev. Wright’s continual calls to God to damn America.  Clearly he was raised on ‘black liberation theology,’ an obscure sixties movement that Rev. Wright was part of.  Since he went to the same church, he clearly holds all the views of that movement, from Marxism to anti-white racism.  To deny that would be irrational; the fact the media didn’t point this out shows they hate America so much they’d rather have a ‘big story’ then a good President.

And his clear sexism in wanting to make Hillary a Secretary should send up warning signals to women everywhere.  The way the Democrats and the media savaged Sarah Palin, that brilliant strong woman who gave us hope after Hillary was denied her destiny by the media-DNC partnership, shows that the elites in journalism and the Democratic party hate women.  What other explanation can there be?

Moreover, if Obama hadn’t bussed in tens of thousands of ACORN volunteers to Iowa, Hillary would have won those caucuses and gone on to vicotry.  And all the close states — the margins of a few hundred thousand voters easily could have been ACORN fraud.  Could have been?  Anyone who doubts it has obviously been sipping the koolaid, believing the preposterous claim Obama won fair and square.  When people start falling for outlandish things like Obama as a legitimate President, you know they’ve slipped off the deep end.

My friends (and we know that’s the proper way to address a collective mass, most of whom we know nothing about), Hillary Clinton should stand up and say what she really thinks about Barack Obama.   She should fight back against the abuse and say “I ain’t gonna be no Secretary!”  Because you know, if she accepts, the President of Ecador or somewhere will be visiting, and Barry will ring up the Old Executive Office building and say to Hillary, “Sweetie, I’m meeting with a foreign leader and I think you should be here…could you bake up some of those delicious oatmeal scotchies and bring them over too?…thanks.”

Only those completely out of touch with reality could possibly hold such bizarre views as those being shown in the mainstream media, the world press, public opinion, and especially on college campuses (those young snots don’t know what experience means, after all).  We see clearly the truth, that Obama is a false messiah, and Hillary needs to be raised from the dead!  Fight on!

(End of Satire)

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Obama, America and the Future

Today I was showing my two year old son a picture of Barack Obama, a name Dana knows well, hearing it on the news and in conversation. He also knows the name “John the Cain” (as he says it). While one can’t really explain to a boy almost three what the President does, it occurs to me that today’s children will see the pomp, ceremony and honor of the office given to a black man – and that can’t help but send a positive message to children. My white son will be used to seeing blacks as authority figures, respected and admired in society (and not just for sports and music). That is powerful.

I’ve waited a week before trying to figure out what the election of Barack Hussein Obama means for the United States and the world. Throughout this year, even as Obama battled Clinton, and even as McCain threatened a come back, there has been a sense of destiny about his candidacy. Back in May, in a blog entry entitled “The Obama Revolution,” I argued that his candidacy was changing American politics completely, focusing on fund raising, grass roots efforts, and a move away from the traditional way of running a campaign. However as President, he represents a more profound change.  Today I’ll focus on the US, soon I’ll look at implications of an Obama Administration on world politics.

I am about the same age as Obama, albeit I’m white, born in snowy Minnesota, and he’s black, born in balmy Hawaii. When he was born, the marriage of his mother to a black man would have been illegal in almost 20 states. It was looked down upon by most people, ironically because of how the children would allegedly suffer being from a mixed background. Segregationists tried to fight off change in the south, great civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated, and riots and cities aflame towards the end of the decade showed a country divided completely along racial lines. I think that my generation – those of us who were old enough to understand a bit about what was going on the sixties, but young enough not to get too caught up in the conflict, who represent the first wave of an electorate really able to ignore race.

For all the drama of the civil rights battles, blacks didn’t really win a lot in terms of social status and prosperity right away. Rather, the seeds planted then germinated in the culture, as new generations grew up without the same sense that blacks were strange, scary, and perhaps inferior. Not that differences in culture, language and music weren’t evident. But these differences became interesting rather than frightening.

However, this election goes far, far beyond race. The United States is a country in transformation. There is a generational and demographic change underway which will alter the nature of American politics for decades. Twenty years ago the themes of American political competition were clear. It was socialism vs. individualism, big government and taxes vs. free enterprise, social welfare programs vs. a focus on volunteerism and personal responsibility. In that framework the Republicans patched together a pretty powerful argument: America must stand against socialism, should strive to promote individual responsibility, and focus on the market rather than the government to solve problems. The fundamental concept: freedom.

The Democrats from 1980 onward had trouble countering that. Talk about the real barriers keeping equal opportunity from the poor, or discussion of the danger of the quicklly increasing gap between the rich and the poor, led to accusations of socialism and ‘class war.’ Talking about an active role for government meant taking money from your wallet, and letting bureaucrats use it to try to simply stay in power and pay off special interests.

Yet those 20th century arguments now ring stale. Communism is dead, and socialism is an empty phrase. We’re moving beyond ideology to thinking pragmatically about solving problems and confronting reality. No one wants governmental control a la socialism, but as Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz has noted, the collapse of financial markets in September is to free market capitalism and deregulation what the collapse of the Berlin wall was to communism. Ideology-driven understandings of reality simply do not work. The world is too complex to follow any ideology. Thus a decent pragmatic compromiser like John McCain wins out against the Republicans in the primary who were playing to an ideological base. And when, behind in the polls he and the right turned to bogeymen that would have been powerful in the past – William Ayres, Reverend Wright (to be sure, not by McCain himself, who properly avoided that subject) or just the strange foreign background of Obama – they were met with a collective yawn. WHO CARES!?

Joe the plumber never caught on, in part because his name wasn’t Joe and he wasn’t a plumber, but also in part because that whole focus on “they’re redistributors who are going to take your money” isn’t especially scary when the deregulated system is sucking money out of 401Ks and the economy at a rate few have seen before.

Obama’s election shows that this country is at a crossroads. We’ve fallen into a pit (which I’ve written about extensively in past blog entries) where economically, militarily and spiritually we’ve lost our way. Our core values are eroded, our moral authority lost, and our leaders too quick to use military power, not quick enough to try to work with others. We’ve also put power ahead of people; not just those poor or suffering here and abroad, but even in our military. We’ll pay for top support in the field, but not give soldiers the support long term they need after they are back home and the war is far away.

This gets mocked by the right, those who jeer Obama as “the One.” But given his intellect, ability to build compromise, and the image he conveys to the world from day one, he may be able to help this country move into a different sort of political and cultural reality. Perhaps I relate to him because he is of my generation, and his ideals and rhetoric reflect the views of those of us born in the early sixties.

Those reading this blog since I started posting it in May, probably have recognized that I’m very apprehensive about conditions in the world. I’ve felt our economy was in dire straights long before September, I’ve been concerned about coming oil shortages, and my posts on Spiritual Dehydration and Material Saturation react to what I see as a cultural malaise (we’re having trouble filling ‘the void’). We’re fat, spoiled, used to winning all the time, and have lost sight of what made us great as a country.

With the election of Obama, I realize that Americans at some level share this sense that we need a change, and are inspired by someone who urges us to look for something better. Perhaps he’s just another skillful politician who will disappoint. But somehow I think the American people have made a very wise choice about what is needed as we confront the challenges ahead.  Time will tell.

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