Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I drove home to Chicago for a two day respite in the rear area.  I did laundry, played in my Wednesday night touch football game, and slept in my own bed for two nights.

My buddy, Jason, rode back up with me on Friday.  I picked him up at his apartment in Hyde Park, mere blocks from Barack Obama's home.  I informed him (Jason, not Obama) that I was down to about a quarter tank of gas, and we'd stop once we got outside of the Chicago area, where it would be a 30-50 cents per gallon cheaper.  No big deal.

But as we always do, Jason and I got into some good conversation, which always makes a drive go faster.  I noticed the warning light on my gas gauge around the Indiana/Michigan state line, but once again engrossed in conversation, missed the exit at New Buffalo, where there were multiple gas stations.  A few miles down, at the next exit... we had nothing.  So we got back on I-94 and once again exited a few miles down.  Here there were some signs pointing towards various "resorts", so we followed a country road for about a mile an a half.  About half of the homes along the way featured Obama yard signs, which was fairly surprising for this pastoral a setting.

We dead-ended at a small town along a railroad line.  While at first glance this was a sleepy town, it featured an espresso shop and an art gallery.  Surprisingly urbane, if not urban.  Unfortunately, I was not in need of coffee or art.  What I needed was gasoline, which I suppose makes me no different from the rest of the country.  My own lack of energy independence was more urgent, however, and Jason and I looked at each other, trying to guess which direction looked more civilized and might have a gas pump nearby.

We turned left, and immediately Jason spied an Obama field office.

We couldn't find a gas station, but we could find a field office.  

Ground game, indeed!

We parked in one of the two remaining gravel parking spaces in front of the little shack... the spaces remaining because they were pretty much under water from hours of rain.  Inside was a campaign center that was much better equipped with Obama chum- t-shirts, buttons, bumper stickers- than our typically depleted office in exurban Canton.  I identified myself as a fellow campaigner and asked where I could find the nearest gas station.  The older gentleman behind the able cocked his head and assumed a bemused expression.  This could not be good.

"That would probably be in Sawyer," he said.  Go left out the door, and it's two stoplights down."


"About 8 miles," he continued.


I didn't know if we'd make it but, I figured, we at least knew who to call for help if my car sputtered out along the way. As we followed the train tracks we saw pizza places, banks, more art galleries... how on earth did anyone drive to any of these places without gas?  We reached the second light (which was only about four miles down, not eight) and turned right.  There, clustered around the next exit on 94, were your typical assortment of gas stations and fast food.

Hyperbolic lesson of the day on Obama's ground game:  there are more field offices than gas stations in Michigan. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"Politics, Culture and the Death Rattle of the Modern GOP"

"To accept your country without betraying it, you must love it for that which shows what it might become.  America - this monument to the genius of ordinary man and women, this place where hope becomes capacity, this long, halting turn of the 'no' into the 'yes' - needs citizens who love it enough to re-imagine and re-make it."

Princeton University Professor Cornel West, as quoted by Howard Fineman in his philosophically brilliant "The Thirteen American Arguments".

"We believe the best of America is not all in Washington D.C.  We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all you hard working, very patriotic... very pro-America areas of this great nation.  This is where we find the kindness and the goodness and the courage of everyday Americans.  Those who are running our factories and teaching our kids and growing our food and fighting our wars for us.  Those who are protecting us in uniform.  Those who are protecting the virtues of freedom."

Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, 10/16/2008, in North Carolina.


West eloquently defines patriotism in a way that Republicans, today, have largely repudiated.  The U.S. Constitution has been a living, breathing document for over two centuries.  America in its very foundation has been a living embodiment of a social work in progress.  To wish to see America improve, to recognize her fallibility and continue the quest for a more perfect Union is not anti-American.  Belief in an unrealistic American perfection and adherence to an idyllic 1950's "Leave It To Beaver" psuedo-reality that never truly existed is not patriotism by any reasonable standard.

However, Republicans for 40 years have used a strict interpretation of the Constitution (which would, of course, dictate that Barack Obama is 3/5 of a citizen) as their shield and dirty, divisive politics as their sword in a culture war that revolves around abortion and social issues and has lived, politically, in the red state/blue state map created by Pat Buchanan's 1972 "Southern Strategy" for Richard Nixon.

Conservative columnist David Brooks of the New York Times decried the rotting from within of the GOP as evidenced by the excommunication of their own intellectuals:

"What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole  The liberals had coastal condescension, so the conservatives developed their own anti-elitism, with mirror-image categories and mirror-image resentments, but with the same corrosive effect.  

"The Republicans have alienated whole professions.  Lawyers now donate to the Democratic Party over the Republican Party at 4-to-1 rates.  With doctors, it's 2-to-1.  With tech executives, it's 5-to-1.  With investment bankers, it's 2-to-1.  It took talent for the Republicans to lose the banking community."

In this context, how telling is Palin's speech?  Yes, exposed as pandering to an audience, she later walked back her comments and clarified that if rural North Carolina is "pro-America", there are not necessarily other parts of the country that are anti-America.  This, however, is a false choice, a dichotomy that does not exist.  We are all equally American.  Just some parts are more equal than others.  What Palin did not later withdraw from was the notion, as she waxed poetic about the oh-so-American virtues that reside specifically in small towns, that some parts of America are more emblematic of the America that she chooses to identify with and that the Republican Party has defined and molded itself to serve.

And serve them loyally (or at least market to them effectively) they have.  In a 2000 US Census Bureau study of the social impact of education on a state-by-state basis, 7 of the top 10 states voted for John Kerry in 2004, while the bottom 17 voted for George W. Bush.

While Palin would not cop to an "us vs. them"/"good vs. evil" orientation, Republican rhetoric has descended to McCarthian depths in recent weeks.  McCain, after saying he would never question Obama's patriotism, later came out and said of his opponent, "That's not country first, that's Obama first!"   Palin, herself, has literally called Obama a socialist.  Now, to the average voter, the word "socialist" evokes images of Communist totalitarianism.  Yet all free countries are to some degree a public-private partnership, and if you have gone to a public school in America or received an unemployment or Social Security check, you have participated in a socialist institution.  Most Western nations have an even greater socialist reach, and manage to do so without impeding upon the basics of free market principles.  They simply lean further to that side than we do in the name of stability and not leaving anyone behind. 

And these are arguments, as Fineman insightfully points out, that we need to have.  The ability to have these arguments vigorously and publicly and, when possible, inclusively and civilly, is what distinguishes our brand of Democracy from others or from the systems from which the Founders fled.  But their ideology under siege, Republicans have increasingly built a Maginot Line to protect Palin's "pro-American" parts of the country from the scourge of liberalism. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann proposed a "patriotism test" for members of Congress, and lumped in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright as part of a leftist, anti-American monster supporting Obama.  North Carolina Congressman Robin Hayes, warming up the crowd for McCain today, went beyond mere implication: 

"Liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God." 

Democratic rhetoric does not employ "conservative" as an epithet, but Republican rhetoric consistently does so with "liberal".  And while Democrats compete amongst each other to prove who can best work across the aisle, Republicans jockey for the title of truest believer.  Democrats have not banded together to pick apart their former colleague, Joe Lieberman, after he became John McCain's top confidant and surrogate.  Yet the Republican rush to throw Colin Powell, the leading respected military voice of his generation and former Bush Secretary of State, under the bus has been saddening, if predictable.   

And while liberal talk radio exists on the fringes of the public discourse, conservative talk radio dominates southern airwaves and Rush Limbaugh is an icon.  Fox News was founded to present strict partisan propaganda.  Fineman again:

"Most of humanity pays allegiance to only One Eternal Answer, whether it's a sacred text or  'revolutionary' party.  I first saw that dangerous allegiance as a student on a visit to the old Soviet Union in 1970.  On my first night in Kiev, I checked into a hotel.  The spartan room had a desk with a lamp and a modern looking radio.  As I examined the radio more closely I noticed something odd - and chilling.  It had no dial, only an 'on/volume' switch.  I was in a country with only one voice - the government's."

While liberals who watch MSNBC and CNN to follow politics can handle, and in many cases relish, seeing strong conservative voices, be it William Bennett on CNN or Pat Buchanan, Joe Scarborough, or Tucker Carlson on MSNBC, Fox News and conservative talk radio represent conservatives' "one voice", and their "sacred text" is a literal reading of the Constitution (as a decoy for their attack on Roe v. Wade) in the way their supporters on the religious right choose (or attempt) to interpret the Bible.  Like fans of a sports team who think that every national announcer and umpire/referee is against them, they decry a liberal bias in the mainstream media, inflate it into a conspiracy against their way of life, and retreat behind their ramparts, with guns firing at the invading liberal Huns.

The intellectual wing of the conservative party has seen this happening. Powell, Brooks,  Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, the Washington Post's George Will, the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan, former Bush aide David Kuo, and former Nixon aide John Dean have all seen this departure from Goldwater conservatism into the cesspool of the neoconservative movement, a departure from productive ideas into a destructive ideological struggle.  None are supporting John McCain this year, a stunning and historic rejection of a candidate by his own party's intelligentsia.  And the Chicago Tribune, whose founder, Joseph Medill, was also one of the founders of the Republican Party, a publication that in 180 years has never endorsed a Democrat, this week endorsed Obama.

The culture war, elevated into a crusade, has eaten the Republican party from the inside.  The always-irreverent Matt Taibbi, in "The Great Derangement", offered this take:

"In the pointy-headed northeastern America of my experience, there were no legends of wandering prophets, no dinner table discussion of personal salvation.  But in the rest of the country you had this weird dichotomy:  an advanced industrial economy confidently riding the superconductor and the microchip into the space age, while most of its population hurtled backward away from the Enlightenment, living out a Canterbury Tales-type quest for revelation in a culture dominated by superstition and mystery."

Reasonable conservatives are left with a difficult choice:  alignment with a radicalized form of their own beliefs, or voting with the other party just to try and force their own side back into line.  Whatever their choice may be, the moderate right has no voice right now, and the unfortunate result could be that the entire right gets a seat on the sidelines for a few terms while they come to terms with their inner demons like an emotionally troubled person going to therapy.  The nation may be on the verge of an intervention on the dysfunctional right side of the aisle to restore some civility to the necessary debate.

Friday, October 17, 2008

"Almost lost it..."

I was on my way out to lunch, computer bag over my shoulder, the delightful October air just inches from my nose, when a middle-aged couple walked into the office.  They approached the two older ladies who were manning our front desk and said, "We have some questions about Senator Obama."

I always relish the chance to see what is going into someone's decision-making, so I stopped at the door to listen in.

"If he's elected, how will he be sworn in?" asked the husband.  "Will it be on the bible?  We heard it would be on the Koran"

"Oh my god," I muttered, drawing a glare from one of the front desk ladies.  So the hell what if he IS a Muslim, for (ahem) God's sake!

Calmly (certainly compared to me) and gently, the elderly woman manning the front desk informed them that Obama would be sworn in on the same family bible that he used when he was worn into the Senate.

"And is it true he doesn't like to salute the flag?"

I kept it holstered the second time around.

"No, no," they were told reassuringly.  "Seantor Obama is a patriot."

"OK," the wife said.  "There are a lot of things we like about him.  We just wanted to ask, because we got some e-mails..."

I began to realize I was face to face with two honest to god Reagan Democrats- Hillary Clinton's "hard working white people".

And you know what? Hillary really was right when she said Obama couldn't connect with them.  Well, sort of.  I think it's just as much that they can't connect with him.   

In a matter of just over 60 seconds, I went from unfiltered disgust to a bit of grudging admiration.  They got splattered by the Republican manure spreader, and while they didn't know immediately which brand of bullshit was being disseminated, they at least had a bullshit meter tuned enough to know it didn't smell right, and went right to the source.

I had even greater admiration for the ladies at the front desk of a field office in a Republican district, and for everyone who has been in the trenches here for months, deeply invested in the campaign, and can hear these kinds of questions and react with cheerful equanimity and simply fight smears with truth and let the people decide.

John McCain has, in all three debates, failed the temperament question, but I damned near failed it, myself, today!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"12 Quick Hitter Observations From The Final Debate"

1.  McCain continues to fail on the temperament question.  With all of his making of faces and disjointed answers and condescension and sarcasm, he simply doesn't look Presidential. On a subconscious level (or a conscious one), people are imagining each candidate dealing with a foreign head of state, and McCain is failing that test hugely.  NBC's Norah O'Donnell conducted a poll of independent voters before and after the debate on their comfort level with each candidate as President, ranking from 1-10:

Obama before:  6.2
Obama after:  7.4
McCain before:  6.4
McCain after:  4.3

This is striking.  Prior to the debate this sample of independent voters viewed McCain and Obama similarly on the threshold question.  But after... not so much.  There is a powerful Kennedy/Nixon dynamic on display, the talking heads aren't discussing it, but the insta-polling is reflecting it.  Obama's calm demeanor and simply defusing McCain's assorted attacks are reassuring to a voting public that is looking at these two men and trying to gauge who will take care of them in crisis.  Chuck Todd may loathe insta-polls, but in this election season they have been a strong predictor of where the real polls, including his own NBC News/WSJ poll, are heading.

2.  If you wanted to score the debate like a boxing match, you could make an argument that McCain won by a few points.  However, he needed to put Obama on the canvas, and no one can make the case that he did so.  Obama is in position to run out the clock right now, and his main goal was to win on the Presidential aesthetic (check) and avoid the big mistake (check).  He didn't engage, didn't try to win points, just parried McCain's blows.  He was cautious, but likely appropriately so.

3.  McCain may have had the killer retort of the night when he said, "I am not President Bush.  If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago."   But here's the problem:  as Obama pointed out, he still can't escape the similarities in policy, and the argument might resonate as a summation today if he had been running the "I'm Not Bush" campaign all along instead of the POW/"Country First" brand all while tacking to the right and running a Karl Rove-style campaign.

4.  The pundits made a big deal out of McCain snidely laughing off the matter of the women's health exception on the issue of abortion while citing the health of the mother as the core of an extreme "pro-abortion" position.  (Once again, McCain was pandering to the extreme flank of his own party with hard line ideology, and in so doing turned off pretty much everyone else.)  What was under-discussed was the last line McCain threw in there.  He said he had no litmus test for judges on the abortion issue.  But then he proceeded to say that he didn't believe any judge who agreed with Roe v. Wade was competent!  Simply a litmus test by another name.  And Obama made the strongest point on the issue when he exposed the traditional Republican divisive rhetoric when he pointed out that no one is pro-abortion. 

5.  McCain's constant beating the drum of Republican ideology- small government, low taxes, "rights of the unborn"- are little more than preaching to the converted.  Ideological arguments in a time of tangible crisis do not resonate with undecided voters or those with a slight lean.  And after eight years of George W. Bush, people no longer want an ideologue.  People want a problem solver.

6.  Did anyone notice that McCain once again called for an across the board spending freeze, but proposed increased support for at least a half dozen governmental programs? And he continues to say that he'll veto any bill with an earmark as President, yet just voted for a bailout bill with over $100 billion in pork.  He continues to display a rank inability to see or communicate nuance in any issue, and is seeking to, as George Will continues to point out, substitute certitude for comprehension.

7.  The one policy area where Obama clearly won was on health care, where he laid out in concrete terms what his plan and what McCain's plan would mean to the average consumer.  McCain again comes at it from an ideological tack, speciously painting Obama's plan as a form of socialized medicine, and probably even believes that the $5000 tax credit will be enough for everyone- even though independent analysts have debunked the notion repeatedly.

8.  Obama's best punch of the night was the one he never took at Sarah Palin.  He didn't want that to be the story.  The rest of the world has taken care of this for him.  People have made up their minds on Sarah Palin.  While McCain preaches to his choir, Obama simply enjoys the music.

9.  My preferred answer for Obama once William Ayers came up would have been the following:  "If we want to discuss our respective associations and boards we served on, John, we can talk about your membership on the board of the U.S. Council for World Freedom.  Can we not mutually agree that I don't condone terrorism, you don't condone anti-Semitism, and just get back to work on the issues of the American people?"  Obama took the cautious approach and coolly explained his associations and went on.  He may have watched a hanging curveball go by, but he has all the runs he needs to win this ballgame.  He just needed to avoid the big gaffe, and he did that.

10.  Did anyone catch that the description of "Joe The Plumber" must be a plumber who runs a chain of franchises and makes over $250K per year for McCain's argument to mean anything?  And once again, an entire debate passes without the words "middle class" escaping McCain's lips.  The middle class is the largest segment of the country, the largest source of skilled labor and productivity, and the core of the consumer market- which ultimately provides the foundation of opportunity for the investor class.  To run without putting the middle class front and center is like running for school board without talking about how you'll pay for textbooks.

11.  I don't want to hear any Republican accusing someone else of attacking the fabric of democracy after 2000.  ACORN?  Really?  I guess when your side does it, it's fighting the good fight but when the other side does it, it's an assault on democracy as we know it.

12.  McCain said he repudiates it when anyone in his party crosses the line, yet his own running mate said Barack Obama pals around with terrorists.  I must have missed him repudiating Palin somewhere in the defense of his supporters who followed Palin's lead and literally called for Obama to be killed.   He could have scored major points had he looked right in the camera (which he had a hard time doing anyway) and said:  anyone who would yell such a thing, don't come to my campaign events and I don't want your support- I would rather lose.  Instead, astonishingly, in what may well have been the final act of whoring himself out to the far right that he was once known for fighting, McCain actually stepped up and offered a blanket affirmation of his supporters!

Postscript:  People I talked to generally found McCain to be a bit sharper in this debate.  Yet the insta-polling uniformly showed Obama's biggest win of the season.  And looking inside the numbers, massively more respondents indicated they felt McCain was attacking Obama rather than vice versa; people don't think McCain is speaking to their issues.  We don't have time, they are saying, for the partisan blood sport of the '90s... a lesson McCain would have done well to learn from the defeat of Hillary Clinton. The insta-poll decisiveness looks eerily similar to June 3, the date of the last Democratic primary, when superdelegates came out throughout the day in a collective "calling" of the race.  The insta-poll landslide may be an indication that last night was McCain's Waterloo.  Voters gave him three debates to restore their confidence that the guy they admired before the bright lights of the campaign revealed his true colors might still have some life left.  But what they saw was a campaign plagued by constant mistakes, devoid of strategy, running in a bygone election with no applicability to the challenges of today, and a candidate quite simply not up to the job.  In the end, even through a massive repudiation of the GOP, in the Presidential election voters appear to be choosing not a party, not an ideology, not a set of policies, but actually the man who they think has the capacity to help us work through this mess.  

"This is all McCain has left..."

As I'm sitting here in my field office in Canton- a large, makeshift hub carved out of a strip mall storefront- we have a steady stream of people coming in to buy yard signs.

And what I find striking is that 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 is buying a sign for a second or third time, because someone stole it the first (or even second) time.

They're out of bullets for their guns.  Now the McCain folks are just throwing rocks.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Detroit: The Quest Is The Thing"

Detroit turned out to be an extremely rewarding experience.  Unlike Camp Obama, this was an eclectic, dynamic, engaged group of people who weren't just talking about making a difference, but who showed up with game faces on.  As a result, the team bonded very quickly.  Watching the debate with them, packed into the GOTV (Get Out The Vote) Room with pizza and beer, was a bizarrely homey, comfortable experience with a group of people I had met only the day before, and a truly great time.  It was quite something to be exchanging knowing glances with people I had only just met...

In fact, in only a week our group began to have a real dynamic.   (Apologies to people from the team reading this who don't get mentioned here... I expect a full "Cast of Characters" missive later.)

Becky, our coordinator, had a seemingly bottomless well of energy that fueled everyone.  Jay brought a real efficiency to the program.   Deborah, Sylvia, Ananya, and Ron brought a real roll-up-your-sleeves sensibility. Miguel, Tali and Evelyn brought a distinct youthful edge to the group.  Jonathan was a real original.  While from Chicago, he featured an accent that was, at best guess, some cross between Cajun and Irish.  Jonathan had lived, in the last few years, everywhere from Mississippi to Seattle to Japan doing all sorts of work, some interesting, some less so, and he was a delightfully stimulating combination of well read and well traveled, intellectual and eccentric, affable and acerbic.  Romanian-born Cosmin brought a sense of calm and focus.   Max brought a bit of a true activist orientation.  And then there was Reggie, a Teamster, a longtime union organizer, someone who is like a platoon sergeant in a war... the guy you want in your foxhole.

On Thursday night we went to Greektown for dinner, and ended up having a fascinating conversation until well after midnight.  The conversation was started by Reggie, who wanted to know what the plan was for this amazing grassroots organization after we (Insh'allah) win this thing... does our carriage turn into a pumpkin on November 5th?  How do the people who have mobilized each other to do this amazing thing stay mobilized to do the work we all know needs to be done?

Now, Reggie and I had been butting heads all week, intellectually.  Reggie comes from the trenches, he's been hardened in battle.  As a result, he sees all politics as a struggle between powerful forces operating in the shadows, and every battle we are forced to fight is part of someone's master plan.  I, on the other hand, come at it from a more academic and less cynical (Reggie would say more naive) direction.  Maybe not full-on idealism, but certainly still with a belief in the possible.  And on some level, Reggie must have believed it, too, because he was here.

Jonathan was in on this conversation, as were Cosmin, Miguel and Becky.  But what I began to see was that the creative friction between Reggie and myself had become one of the driving dynamics within the group.  Reggie was of the belief, in keeping with his world view, that Barack Obama had to have a plan to keep us mobilized to do the work of the country.  I was of the opinion, because of my world view, that we should not wait to be led.  Rather, we should control what we can control, and if among the thousands of people working on this campaign, if ten such discussions were happening around the country, that's how movements get started and that's how mountains are moved.  I believe it's possible to temper expectations but not temper aspirations.

And none of us at the table really knew what this should look like.  As yet I still don't, and I'm waiting for a few quiet moments to think on it.  But it was one of the most amazing, intellectually stimulating nights I have spent in a long time, and I doubt I'll ever forget the people around that table at the Parthenon restaurant into the wee hours that night.

I said something else at the table that night, too:  at some point last week, and I don't remember when it actually was, this stopped being about Barack Obama for me.  It started being about Reggie.  And Becky.  And Cosmin, Jonathan, Becky, Lael, Tali, Diane, Max....  Because at the end of the day, electing Barack Obama is still a means to an end:  to solve the problems that we have all come together to work to solve.  It was about us, and our work, and our country... indeed, our world.

When Obama would frequently say that this campaign was about us, not about him, I always considered it a mix of elusive philosophy and a bit of a platitude.  But around that table that night, I began to understand it in a way that maybe others in the campaign do and maybe they don't... and doubtful those who haven't joined us ever could.  It's not that it's about me.  Rather, it's about us and our work.   

And as a result, I began to think about what is possible (or necessary) beyond getting Barack Obama elected President of the United States.

I don't have that answer.  Maybe I never will.  But I was reminded of something that we all, at some point or another, tend to forget:  that it's about the quest... it's always about the journey.

In his monologue at the end of The American President, Michael Douglas, as President Andrew Shepard, said, "We have serious problems and we need serious people to solve them."

I was privileged to spend that first week with some serious people.

And at the end of the week, we were all walking around headquarters, taking pictures, celebrating the time we spent and realizing that in so little time, we were actually going to miss each other!  I was reminded of a scene from another movie, the slightly less inspiring Iron Eagle.  Jason Gedrick's father, a fighter pilot, had been shot down over a fictional middle eastern country, and Gedrick rallied his spunky group of military brat teenage friends to organize a two-plane rescue mission, flown by himself and Louis Gossett Jr.   The planning session was a joyful, festive time of comradeship... despite the fact that their friend's father was facing execution in a foreign land and their friend, himself, was not terribly likely to make it back alive.

While our stakes are not quite so dire (or at least not quite so immediately dire), we were still having a great time preparing to go out into the field and, well... do some pretty serious business!

Now, out in the field, we are all like replacement soldiers, our OD's still clean, coming in to relieve the bedraggled group of warriors who have been at this all year.  Overnight, I have gone from being the charter member of a club to almost a dilettante.  So I am now losing the daffy grin and once again getting back to business.

I'll let you know how that goes.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

"Presidential Ground Game as College Football Recruiting"

So, one of my fellow organizers here at BHO MI HQ gets a call, not unlike the ones we spend much of our days making right now, trying to bring in volunteers to canvass and phone bank.

She informs the caller, who is calling from our campaign in Ohio, that she is already in Michigan as an organizer.

"Are you happy there?" the caller asks her.  "Do you think you might like to come to Ohio instead?"


This is like what Jim Tressel does when he is trying to steal a high profile recruit from Michigan!  Hey, he's only a verbal commitment and we play through the whistle at this level!  Is he going to promise her a car and a hotel suite with a Jacuzzi?  A job in the Obama Administration with a West Wing office 75 feet from the Oval?

Don't they get that an electoral vote in one large swing state counts as much as an electoral vote in another?  

One more reason for me to just hate Ohio.  Go Blue... which is what we hope the state of Michigan will do for Barack.  Good grief.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"The Open Source Campaign"

Open source development is a methodology of software programming by which the code is in the public domain, and updates/improvements are peer reviewed and then accepted.  The idea is that you mobilize and apply the knowledge and ingenuity of everyone.  

Obama for America is very much an open source campaign.  It spreads person to person.  How they conduct the campaign comes very much from the people who have their hands in the dirt, and while there is a centralized strategy that executed with thoughtfulness and discipline, the agile tactics of the campaign come from the ground game.

This really does appear to be the first true grassroots campaign we've seen, incorporating the newest campaign techniques in online virtual phone banking and social networking, and the campaign really is "owned" by the people running it.

When I arrived here in Detroit yesterday, I was quickly brought up to speed on using the DNC's online Votebuilder database to recruit volunteers who had indicated an interest in helping out in a swing state, then I did data entry of voter registration information, as my first day in Detroit was the last day for Michiganders to register to vote.  And I was brought up to speed by one of the old hands here, Jay, who has been here for all of four days.

The most disturbing thing about Jay is his troubling likeness to Sylar from Heroes. So my biggest concern was him pointing at my forehead and cutting off the top of my head to gouge out my brain and steal my superpowers.  Whatever those may be.

Today's challenge is making sure the flow of volunteers continues through Election Day.  McCain announced he was pulling out of Michigan, which is just the latest lie in a campaign that has been built on deception, misinformation, and general bullshit.  He's still on TV, his ground organization is still functioning (such as it is).  But the announcement was nothing more than attempt to slow the Obama onslaught in this critical state.  And thus far it's working.  The "flake rate" - the percentage of committed volunteers who simply don't show- jumped from 15% to 70% after the McCain head fake.  Lord knows that even a fraction of that on November 4 would be disastrous.  So we have all hands on deck to make calls.

Obama state headquarters is housed in the Detroit Teachers Federation building, across the Lodge Freeway from the imposing old Henry Ford Hospital.  I walked a block down to a Subway for lunch and found a thick plexiglass barrier between customer and Sandwich Artist, with a slot to hand over my money and a plexiglass lazy susan to serve up the sandwiches.  The concern over robbery is apparently that acute.  This city is like a scene from some disturbing future/post-apocalyptic movie.

Detroit is a sad remnant of a once great metropolis.  Just on the way in from Birmingham, I saw countless abandoned and burnt out houses sitting in neighborhoods that probably were once no different from the Bungalow Belt in Chicago, a lingering shadow of a formerly comfortable, satisfying life.  If you squint, it looks like a real city.  You have the highways crisscrossing the landscape, with streets traversing them at the intervals you see in Chicago or Minneapolis or Milwaukee or any other city.  You see the big, old buildings that were once grand monuments to progress and now just cast the dark shadows of a bygone era.  The population of Detroit has been in steady decline over the decades and you can't avoid the depressing thought that this is a crumbling shell of the city it is still pretending to be.  

Detroit will be a big job to resurrect... maybe too big.  But it's going to take a lot of smart people with a thoughtful plan.  And we think we have the right people with some ideas. 

Monday, October 6, 2008

"Forget Issues. Just... forget it!"

I have always tried to remind people that a Presidency is driven by national and world events during that term, and a President is ultimately judged by his he leads the nation during those events.  After all, what defines the Bush Presidency more than anything?  It was the hysterical reaction to 9/11 (invading the wrong country and ensnaring us in an incredibly damaging war) and the bungling of the Katrina disaster.  The adminstration choosing partisan loyalty over competence in staffing traditionally apolitical functions like intelligence and justice led to a leaderless government utterly unable to intelligently and capable deal with crises.

John McCain has already given us a window into how he handles difficult decisions.

Consider how he handled his "3 a.m. phone call" on the banking crisis:

His first response to was to blame it on Barack Obama, claiming that Obama was too entrenched in the lobbying culture of Washington, too busy "gaming the system" to do any real work.  This is especially bizarre given McCain's previous attacks accusing Obama of having too little Washington experience to lead the country.  And the response is downright hypocritical considering the integral role people such as Phil Gramm, Rick Davis, and Randy Scheunemann have played in his campaign and in the formation of his policies.

His next response was the bogus "suspension" of his campaign that involved not an hour's slowdown of fundraising, ad buys, appearances field operations or interviews.  He accused Obama of not putting country first and mocked him for merely working the phones, which, interestingly, was all McCain himself did.  And he might have gotten away with this deception had he not cancelled on David Letterman.  Knowing that Katie Couric's interview with Sarah Palin did not go well, McCain wanted to see if he could head that off at the pass by doing his own interview with Couric.  Now, had McCain simply told Letterman that given what was happening, it would not be appropriate for him to appear in a comedy show, it would have all been dismissed.  Instead, he told Letterman that he was heading back to Washington.  This was an absolutely absurd lie, as not only does the entire world know the movements of both candidates, but McCain was in another CBS studio, prompting an enraged Letterman to have Keith Olbermann sit in for McCain.  Olbermann, a fierce partisan, even looked uncomfortable as Letterman ranted about McCain's uber-clumsy maneuver. The entire gambit was nothing more than presenting the false appearance of putting country over party (when in fact he changed nothing) and hoping to take credit for parachuting in and getting the bailout deal done, when in fact he could not corral the far right of the House Republican caucus that ultimately held up the deal.

McCain's coup de grace was voting for the bailout deal out together by the Senate despite the presence of over $100 billion in pork.  McCain has pledged to veto any bill with earmarks attached, but McCain's vote for the necessary (if difficult to swallow) bailout deal laid bare his inability to detach from his certitudes and see the complexities of issues that a President needs to.  The consequences when he cannot, as we have seen over the last 8 years, are dire.  McCain simply flailed around from pillar to post, an exercise in erratic and ineffectual behavior.

Even the very selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate speaks to an erratic problem solving methodology of disengagement with issues followed by wild, unpredictable and often emotional or under-thought responses.  It is said that choosing a running mate is a candidate's first Presidential decision, and let's look at how McCain made it.  

By all accounts his first choices were Tom Ridge and Joe Lieberman, but when the GOP powers that be would not allow him to put a pro-choice running mate a heartbeat away from the Presidency, his knee instead jerked to Palin, an unknown far-right ideologue who on face looked like a play for disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters but in actuality was a somewhat successful attempt to rile up the base.  The problem was, they didn't bother to vet her, and thus didn't know about her pursuit of the mother of all earmarks (the "Bridge to Nowhere")- a sore subject with McCain- nor did they realize that they were getting George W. Bush in a skirt:  fiesty, folksy, not even a tiny bit engaged with issues, and completely unable to think on her feet, as evidenced by her interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric.  And these aren't even the heavyweights.   The result has been that only the most partisan of observers are willing to believe she might be up to the job; 41% according to the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll- little more than the committed, partisan base who would support any candidate of their party.  Even the moderate punditocracy is scared to death that she could be a heartbeat away from the Presidency.  

"Can we now admit the obvious?  Sarah Palin is utterly unqualified to be Vice President.  She is a feisty, charismatic politician who has done some good things in Alaska.  But she has never spent a day thinking about any important national issue, and this is a hell of a time to start.  There is an ongoing military operation in Iraq that still costs $10 billion a month, a war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan that is not going well and is not easily fixed. Iran, Russia and Venezuela present tough strategic challenges.  

And the American government is stretched to the limit.  Between the Bush tax cuts, homeland security needs, Iraq, Afghanistan and the bailout, the budget is looking bleak. Plus, within a few years the retirement of the Baby Boomers begins with its massive and rising costs (in the trillions) 

Obviously these are very serious challenges and constraints.  In these times, for John McCain to have chosen this person to be his running mate is fudamentally irresponsible.  McCain says that he always puts country first.  In this important case, it is simply not true."

So forget the candidates' positions on issues. They matter, to be sure, but equally critical is how a President can think and act and lead under duress.  McCain has shown us his capabilities in this area, and it's not at all encouraging.