Friday, September 26, 2008

A few thoughts on the first debate

If there's any consensus among the pundits about tonight's debate is that it was a tie. McCain and Obama each had their moments and their failings. In some ways that outcome kept McCain's campaign alive, but at the same time it kept Obama in the lead.

I was profoundly disappointed that my prediction below did not turn out to be the case. With such erratic, impetuous, unbalanced behavior this week (not to mention the Veep pick) McCain deserved to have his temperament questioned and Obama could have put him away for good by effectively questioning whether McCain's behavior this week and decisions throughout this campaign underly a kind of instability that makes McCain just to risky to put into a commander-in-chief position. That said, basic game theory says you don't take chances when you're winning and maybe, essentially, questioning McCain's sanity was just too risky. Some things you just let speak for themselves.

As I write this, the insta-polls show that a majority of Americans believe that Obama won this debate :
From CNN/Opinion Research poll of Debate Watchers (1000 surveyed, +/-4.5% MOE):

Who Did the Best Job in the Debate? Obama 51%-McCain 38%
(Men 43-46 for McCain/Women 59-31 for Obama; 50+ years old 48-40 for Obama)
Who Would Better Handle Iraq? Obama 52%-McCain 47%
Who Would Better Handle the Economy? Obama 58%-McCain 37%
(similarly favorable numbers from a CBS of undecided voters here)

The talking heads were calling it a tie and given the state of the contest, a tie means that Obama retains his overall lead as reflected in the tracking and swing state polls. But, if most Americans who watched the debate believe Obama won (and remember, this foreign policy debate was supposed to be the one that McCain would have the upper-hand) it's pretty much over. Initial public impressions can and often do change, and we still have five-and-a-half weeks to the election, but McCain needed a game changer and by all appearances he didn't get one.

Next up, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, next Thursday, October 2. Can't wait!

PS Fascinating observation from David Gergen on CNN tonight. He compares Obama in tonight's debate to JFK against Nixon in the foreign policy debate in 1960. As Gergen notes, it wasn't that Kennedy won the debate, but the younger challenger, the one voters were unsure of, held his own against the older more experienced candidate and it was that debate that allowed JFK to win the election. Gergen says Obama did the same tonight. Of course, Eisenhower in 1960 was nowhere near as unpopular as W in 2008.

What to expect from tonight's debate

The McCain campaign is already promising victory in tonight's debate, but I think this excerpt from Politico is more likely to be the story of tonight's debate:
...the candidate's penchant for the dramatic has also raised anew potentially damaging questions of his age, executive abilities and, most of all, his temperament.

McCain's attempt to shift the argument from the economy to character has, perversely, given Democrats an opening to question his own fitness to lead. Spur-of-the-moment decisions - from his choice of a running mate he hardly knew to his request that the first debate be delayed - reflect an impetuousness he's tried to associate with Obama's youth, his critics say, while undercutting his argument that he's a cool, tested old hand capable of coping with presidential pressure."

Chris Rock = Genius/Larry King =Idiot (Bill Clinton...don't even get me started)

Chris Rock on Larry King:
KING: You must be ... proud that at this stage in our history a black man is running for president on a major ticket.

ROCK: Um, you know what? I'm proud Barack Obama's running for president. You know? If it was Flavor Flav, would I be proud? No. I don't support Barack Obama because he's black.
Nothing irritates me more than this attitude exhibited by Larry King. Yes, Barack Obama is black and, yes, that's historic and has the potential to go a long way in forever improving the majority culture's views of blacks and minorities generally. And for reasons I'll explain in a subsequent post that we may be on the cusp of electing a black president is something that is personally very important to me. But, Obama, regardless of race, is also the best damn presidential candidate since Bobby Kennedy in 1968. I continue to be amazed at how many people still seem to be determined to reduce Obama's candidacy to something only important because of his race (à la Jesse Jackson's candidacy in 1984).

Speaking of Bill Clinton, watch this video from the other night to view the former president's continued denial of the fact that his team lost. And, to see Chris Rock's beautiful slap down of Clinton:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Is he fucking crazy?

The most astute observation on John McCain's effort to postpone the debate comes from, of all people, David Letterman:
You don't suspend your campaign. This doesn't smell right. This isn't the way a tested hero behaves. I think someone's putting something in his metamucil."
"He can't run the campaign because the economy is cratering? Fine, put in your second string quarterback, Sara Palin. Where is she?

What are you going to do if you're elected and things get tough? Suspend being president? We've got a guy like that now!
Letterman made the statement after learning, mid-taping, that McCain had canceled his previously scheduled appearance on the show to, according to McCain's people, return to DC to help deal with the financial crisis. However, Letterman was well aware that McCain was at that moment just a few blocks away, being interviewed by Katie Couric.

So, what exactly is the sound made by an imploding presidential campaign? We're about to find out.

Update 7:11pm PDT: Go here for more about the canceled Letterman/McCain interview

Update 2 9:40pm PDT: Here's the video:

Is this the cultural touchstone moment that signifies the "cratering" of the McCain campaign's credibility with the American electorate? Some have already compared it to Cronkite's Tet Offensive editorial questioning the US's continued prosecution of the war in Vietnam.
Letterman, of course, is not the newsman that Cronkite was and TV audiences are segmented in a way that they never were back in 1968. But, somewhere in the neighborhood of four million will view Letterman's observation on TV; millions more are likely to see it on YouTube.

Like Cronkite's 1968 reckoning of the war in Vietnam, Letterman's belittling of the McCain campaign echoes a sentiment that is already growing by the day with the media and in the political zeitgeist as a whole. Examples abound from the media's loss of patience with Sarah Palin's dodging of their questions to conservative intellectual icon George Will's disgusted critique of McCain's erratic and needlessly risky response to the pressures of both real world events and the campaign itself. Short of some gigantic error by Obama in the debates (if those debates happen at all), or some series of events that turns the whole campaign on its head, Peggy Noonan will have nailed when back at the beginning of the Republican convention, she said "it's over!" Sarah Palin may well have turned out to be the beginning of the end.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Barack Obama is no John Kerry

“I think it's pretty clear that Sen. McCain is a little panicked right now. At this point he seems to be willing to say anything or do anything or change any position or violate any principal to try and win this election, and I've got to say it's kind of sad to see. That's not the politics we need.” – Barack Obama speaking in Coral Gables, Florida today.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Why do Republicans Hate Community Organizers?

From the Republican National Convention:

Rudy Giuliani:  
“You have a resume from a gifted man with an Ivy League education. He worked as a — community organizer.”  He paused and then said, “What?” as if to express befuddlement at that job title.

Giuliani had eloquent body language — a dismissive half-shrug — as he said the words, “community organizer.”  Immediately the delegates on the convention floor burst into laughter and guffaws.  (MSNBC)
Sarah Palin:  
"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities."
From a story about local community organizers in the Metro Section of today's New York Times:
Still, it didn’t seem as if the festivities in St. Paul and Minneapolis had a huge impact on what was going on in the office [24 year old Peter] Nagy shares with Ann Sullivan, 51, who has been building up Acorn’s Long Island network since the mid-1990s.

Mr. Nagy began Friday at Hempstead High School, meeting with officials about registering students to vote, then returned to his office with its décor of newspaper clippings taped to walls, posters reading “Fair Housing. It’s not an Option. It’s the Law,” the Acorn newspaper with the front-page headline “Foreclosure Fighters,” and slightly unexpected bumper stickers reading: “God is Good All the Time.”

He and Ms. Sullivan met briefly with a Hempstead resident named Angela Davis, who has cerebral palsy and had worries about safety and services in her building. She lamented how hard it was to get residents to voice their concerns. “People are afraid to come forward,” she said. “They’re afraid they’re going to be evicted.”

Later there were meetings with tenants of a residence for the elderly, and with other residents facing foreclosure, and then time knocking on doors in Westbury to try to make contacts and generate interest in a meeting about foreclosure issues.
This paragraph from the same story may explain why Republicans hate community organizers so much:
“There are different kinds of power,” said Bertha Lewis, executive director of New York Acorn. “There’s electoral power. Movie stars have fame. Billionaires have money. Low- and moderate-income people have their numbers, and every great movement for social justice — Nelson Mandela preaching against apartheid, civil rights — have all been led by community organizers who took action and held their elected officials accountable.”
Oh, and by the way, the morning after Sarah Palin's speech, John McCain cancelled a previously scheduled appearance before a Twin Cities gathering of community organizers from Habitat for Humanity.  

For more on community organizers vs. the GOP go here.