On Excerpts of The Battle for America 2008

1 08 2009

I have never been much of consumer of campaign books. I tend to think they more or less rehash everything that has already been dissected in contemporaneous reporting even if they do offer juicy tidbits about campaign infighting, portraits of a frustrated candidate, and a loads of humorous anecdotes. Couldn’t I get much of that on YouTube spoofs anytime I want? Aside from a peculiar variety of political junkies, I often wonder to myself who actually purchases such books.

But after reading the an excerpt of “The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election” by Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson in the Washington Post today, I think I’m beginning to understand the appeal of that genre of books. Of course, the 2008 presidential contest from primary to the end of the general election is an unusual serious of events featuring an unlikely stew of characters giving life to grand themes. Somehow the white guy from the South, former Senator John Edwards, became the underdog and a white woman from a northern blue state and black guy with a Muslim name became the main competitors on the Democratic side. And even in that struggle contained hues of David versus Goliath storyline that the media found easy to sell to a eager public.

Meanwhile, the Republican corp had a number of cartoon characters from the adamantly anti-immigrant then-Congressman Tom Tancredo to the jolly aw shucks evangelism of former Arkansas Mike Huckabee. A more disciplined Senator John McCain had to emerge from the ashes before taking the lead. And that only happened after his big win in New Hampshire.

The media’s appetite for sideshow personalities like Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Joe the Plumber, and Bill Ayers made the long campaign easy fodder for water cooler talk for those who wanted a little gossip go with wonky debates on the minutiae of preconditions, the importance of a employer mandates in a health care plan, and the intricacies of the delegate and Superdelegate count.

Historians will have fun with that moment in American politics for generations to decades to come – maybe even longer than that.

But everything revolved around the eventual victor Barack Obama. Compared to his competitors, his campaign was heralded a marvel of near pitch perfect management with few dips in morale matching the posture of its intrepid leader. And the public, particularly his supporters, were very impressed with his cool demeanor, keen intellect and soaring rhetoric.

Balz and Johnson, however, seized on the moments in which those notions did not hold up.

Aides worried that Obama’s low morale might infect others in the campaign and spoke to him about it. They tried to buck him up, but at points in the spring and early summer of 2007, he was deeply frustrated — with his own performance and with that of much of his campaign. On July 15, he met with his senior staff at the home of Valerie Jarrett, a close friend and confidante to both Obama and his wife, Michelle. One adviser recalled it as the moment Obama began to take a more direct role in the operations of his campaign. He was blunt in his critique, and the exchanges among some of his advisers became testy. Beyond fundraising and the operation overseeing the Internet and new media, the campaign was not performing well, Obama said. The message still wasn’t where it should be. The political operation wasn’t up to speed. The campaign lacked crispness and good execution. He believed it was becoming too insular and wanted new people added to the inner circle. He told his team members they were all doing B work. If they continued on that course, they would come in a respectable second.

“Second is not good enough,” he said.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the excerpt so far, however, was then-chief campaign strategist and now White House senior adviser David Axelrod’s candid and prescient assessment of the big O’s potential weaknesses in a 2006 memo.

“It goes to your willingness and ability to put up with something you have never experienced on a sustained basis: criticism. At the risk of triggering the very reaction that concerns me, I don’t know if you are Muhammad Ali or Floyd Patterson when it comes to taking a punch. You care far too much what is written and said about you. You don’t relish combat when it becomes personal and nasty. When the largely irrelevant Alan Keyes attacked you, you flinched,” he said of Obama’s 2004 Senate opponent.

Many in the blogosphere and beyond often wondered if Obama was in fact the happy warrior beneath all that cool even if he could seduced legions of voters with great speechifying. The sheer force of the machinery of the campaign helped quell, thought not silence, many of those lingering doubts. And Obama knew it telling Balz and Haynes:

As he reviewed the campaign from his transition headquarters in mid-December, Obama offered a frank assessment of his two main competitors: Clinton and John McCain. “I was sure that my toughest race was Hillary,” he said. “Hillary was just a terrific candidate, and she really found her voice in the last part of the campaign. After Texas and Ohio she just became less cautious and was out there and was working hard and I think connecting with voters really well. She was just a terrific candidate. And [the Clinton campaign] operation was not as good as ours and not as tight as ours, but they were still plenty tough. Their rapid response, how they messaged in the media was really good. So we just always thought they were our most formidable challenge. That isn’t to say that we underestimated John McCain; it’s just that we didn’t think that their campaign operation was as good.

I cannot help but note the irony here that the campaign that was often dubbed as personality driven and almost free of doubt was in fact the very same tightly organized campaign that achieved success in no small part due to a healthy fear of losing. Its not news, but still a tidbit worth chewing. And maybe with enough of these kinds of insights it might even form a book worth reading.


Using Blagogate to Spread Rumor and Innuendo – Part 2

14 12 2008

Thinking they smell blood in the water Republicans have released this internet video squarely aimed a conservative bloggers. Unsurprisingly, the main messages in the vid are since Obama and Blago campaigned together, they must be co-defendants; any contact that the president-elect or his people had with Blago must be suspect; since the Obama team has been less than forthcoming so far, they must be hiding something and therefore are guilty of something.

Perhaps, the RNC does not realize this is, but the presidential campaign is over. Its been over for more than a month. In fact, the nominee of your own party, the very same candidate that Obama defeated had this to say about the ad earlier today On ABC’s “This Week”:

I think that the Obama campaign should and will give all information necessary. You know, in all due respect to the Republican National Committee and anybody — right now, I think we should try to be working constructively together, not only on an issue such as this, but on the economy stimulus package, reforms that are necessary. And so, I don’t know all the details of the relationship between President-elect Obama’s campaign or his people and the governor of Illinois, but I have some confidence that all the information will come out. It always does, it seems to me.

That’s DC talk for ‘You guys are looking desperate and are embarrassing me.’

More of that Transracial Talk

1 12 2008

If he loses, he’s black. If he wins, he’s a post-racial figure.  Before then-Senator Barack Obama became President-elect Obama, that how I imagined the narrative would play out. So far, I have to say I have been more wrong than right, but its still too early. We have at least four and potentially eight to find out.

Of course, the first signs of it are starting to emerge. Case in point Marie Arana. The Washington Post’s Book World editor has made the latest attempt to alert the rest of us to the fact that “Obama is not black, but transracial or even postracial.”

The phrase was repeated in much the same form by one media organization after another. It’s as if we have one foot in the future and another still mired in the Old South. We are racially sophisticated enough to elect a non-white president, and we are so racially backward that we insist on calling him black. Progress has outpaced vocabulary.

To me, as to increasing numbers of mixed-race people, Barack Obama is not our first black president. He is our first biracial, bicultural president. He is more than the personification of African American achievement. He is a bridge between races, a living symbol of tolerance, a signal that strict racial categories must go.

Perhaps, it was repeated because that is how Barack Obama frequently described himself even as he reminded people of the white side of his family. After all, its still possible for someone to recognize himself as a biracial black man or even for someone biracial to describe himself as simply black, which is what he often did. Case in point here is what Obama told the New York Times as a 28 year old in 1990 what it meant to be elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review:

But it’s important that stories like mine aren’t used to say that everything is O.K. for blacks. You have to remember that for every one of me, there are hundreds or thousands of black students with at least equal talent who don’t get a chance.

Maybe this is too vague for some, but it seems to be abundantly clear how Obama sees himself here.

Of course, some pundits are still confused, and will continue to push the whole “Obama as transracial figure” media narrative for whatever reason. Fine. Knock yourself out.

But for those who insist on it I only make one recommendation. Please read Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates piece on Barack Obama in Time Magazine in 2004.

Here’s the money quote:

Back in the real world, Obama is married to a black woman. He goes to a black church. He’s worked with poor people on the South Side of Chicago, and still lives there. That someone given the escape valve of biraciality would choose to be black, would see some beauty in his darker self and still care more about health care and public education than reparations and Confederate flags is just too much for many small-minded racists, both black and white, to comprehend.

Barack Obama’s real problem isn’t that he’s too white — it’s that he’s too black.

Dr. Susan Rice Tapped for US Ambassadorship to the UN

25 11 2008

News is circulating fast of Dr. Susan Rice becoming emerging as the leading candidate for the next U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Like others, I think this is a good thing. Dr. Rice – not to be confused with current the Secretary of State Dr. Condi Rice – is a rising star in the foreign policy world with expert knowledge on such issues as the challenges posed by weak and failed states, transnational threats from criminal and terrorist networks, the destabilizing effects of climate change and the importance of multilateral institutions.

Dr. Rice deep knowledge on African affairs will also be an indispensable asset to any ambassador to the UN in light of the fact that, according to UN Dispatch, “about 2/3rds of all discussions at the Security Council are about situations in Africa.”

For some, it might seem a  bit odd for the candidate of change to install another veteran of the Clinton administration – she served at the State Department and as a deputy at the National Security Council – at such a high level post. But such criticism is short-sighted. Like many other Clintonites on team Obama such as former National Security Advisor Tony Lake, Dr. Rice joined  the Obama campaign early on and quickly emerged as one of its most effective advocates while also playing a key role in crafting the campaign’s foreign policy.

As some have already noted, if Obama goes ahead with this appointment, its a sign that he is taking U.S.-U.N. relations very seriously, given how Dr. Rice has been within his inner circle of advisors since day one.

By the same token, however, observers such as Steven Benen pointed out that Dr. Rice could be even more effective in the White House as deputy national security adviser creating policy under retired Marine General James L. Jones who reportedly already has the national security adviser gig all locked up.

But Obama could still opt convert the UN ambassadorship to a cabinet level post while empowering her to take the diplomatic lead on the U.S. response to genocide in the Sudan, the failed state in Somalia, and other regional problems in Africa, along with leading U.S. efforts for reforming the UN system. In time, the former Rhodes Scholar could then assume another high profile role with even more responsibility and greater access to the president, such as becoming Secretary of State.

Check out Dr. Susan Rice get her wonk on while on MSNBC.

Sorting Out Preconditions

24 11 2008

With President-elect Barack Obama’s plan to announce Senator Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State this week, like many people I am wondering how their approaches will mesh. As former Secretary of State James Backer said on Meet the Press today there has to be a seamless relationship between Obama and Clinton on message, approach, and execution if its going to work.

Or as Thomas Friedman of the NYT recently noted, “Foreign leaders can spot daylight between a president and a secretary of state from 1,000 miles away. They know when they’re talking to the secretary of state alone and when they are talking through the secretary of state to the president. And when they think they are talking to the president, they sit up straight; and when they think they are talking only to the secretary of state, they slouch in their chairs.”

That said, few issues stand out more than whether or not the President of the United States should be willing to meet with dictators or authoritarian leaders without preconditions – a point of genuine disagreement between Obama and Clinton during the campaign. In the November 17th issue of the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza describes Obama’s reaction to the barrage of criticism from the Clinton camp and political pundits to his response to a provocative question in a July 2007 Democratic Presidential YouTube and CNN debate.

Several Obama aides believe that a crucial moment came after a debate sponsored by YouTube and CNN in July of 2007. During the debate, Obama was asked, “Would you be willing to meet separately, without preconditions, during the first year of your Administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?” Obama answered simply, “I would.” Hillary Clinton pounced on the remark as hopelessly naïve, and her aides prepared to emphasize what appeared to be a winning argument. Obama’s aides had much the same reaction. “We know this is going to be the issue of the day,” Dan Pfeiffer, recalling a conference call the following morning, said. “We have the sense they’re going to come after us on it. And we’re all on the bus trying to figure out how to get out of it, how not to talk about it.” Obama, who was listening to part of the conversation, took the telephone from an aide and instructed his staff not to back down. According to an aide, Obama said something to the effect of “This is ridiculous. We met with Stalin. We met with Mao. The idea that we can’t meet with Ahmadinejad is ridiculous. This is a bunch of Washington-insider conventional wisdom that makes no sense. We should not run from this debate. We should have it.”

Now of course saying that you are willing to meet with certain heads of state does not mean you in fact will choose to do so. But Obama’s response to it does reveal a real difference in opinion. I wonder how this will be massaged. That is to say, if Clinton is instructed to meet with Hugo Chavez or Raul Castro or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by Obama will her private disagreements, assuming she has any, become public? Or if they are never leaked to press will those leaders suspect that they can exploit whatever daylight may exist between the President-elect Obama and in-coming Secretary of State Clinton?

Perhaps, those questions will remain moot because it may be an option that Obama never truly chooses to exercise, whether Clinton objects to it or not.  For the most part, Obama and Clinton will most likely seek to exert pressure on certain leaders to at least give the appearance that they are negotiating from a position of strength rather than one of weakness or desperation, which is how some will try to portray it.

At any rate, I bet before taking the gig for top diplomat, Clinton had all sorts of preconditions for Obama and vice versa.

House What?

21 11 2008

From CNN:

“If you still want to be stubborn about America’s failure in Afghanistan, then remember the fate of Bush and Pervez Musharraf, and the fate of the Soviets and British before them,” the message [by Ayman al-Zawahri]  said. “And be aware that the dogs of Afghanistan have found the flesh of your soldiers to be delicious, so send thousands after thousands to them.”

The message said Obama appears “to be captive to the same criminal American mentality towards the world and towards the Muslims.” The speaker cited Muslims’ ire toward Obama’s support of Israel.

The speaker also said Obama, former and current Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, and “your likes” fit Malcolm X’s description of “house slaves.”

An English translation of the message used the term “house Negroes,” Malcolm X’s term for blacks who were subservient to whites.

Laura Mansfield, a terrorism analyst, said this wouldn’t be the first time al-Zawahiri used the Arabic term “abayd al bayt,” which literally translates as slaves or servants of the house.

From Dr. Melissa Harris-Lacewell:

I wonder what Malcolm himself would think of Barack Obama. I have no doubt that he would be a critic, but somehow I doubt he would have labeled Obama a House Negro. I have written about the transformational narrative that underlies Malcolm’s personal journey and I think his criticisms would have been more nuanced. I suspect he also would have felt deep love and admiration for Barack and for his family of girl children. What do you think Yolanda,what would Malcolm say to all this?

And by the way, the House Negro comment is based in a deeply flawed understanding of American slavery. Brother Malcolm was a brilliant leader, but he was actually a pretty poor historian. Enslaved black people who worked in the homes of their enslavers did not necessarily live a better or easier life. Often in the course of one man or woman’s life they would work multiple kinds of tasks including field and domestic labor. Often those who worked in closest proximity to enslavers had less autonomy, were more constantly under racist surveillance, had less opportunity to form social relationships with other enslaved people, were separated from their own families, and were vulnerable to unique and horrible forms of sexual, verbal, and physical abuse. There is certainly no evidence that these domestic slaves felt more attachment to their white enslavers.

Now of course, vile yuck mouth propagandist like Ayman al-Zawahri are not very concerned about providing accurate account of history as much as they want to simply want to inject themselves in the news cycles and play mind games. With Bush fading into the sunset soon and the withdrawl from Iraq on the horizon, al-Zawahri realizes that he will begin to lose one of his principle recuritment tools and now he is trying to portray Obama as another Bush. But before he could or would lament this fact he had to declare victory somehow to rally his own troops to huncker down as they prepare for the pending conflict in Afghanistan.

…on the American people’s admission of defeat in Iraq. Although the evidence of America’s defeat in Iraq appeared years ago, Bush and his administration continued to be stubborn and deny the brilliant midday sun. If Bush has achieved anything, it is in his transfer of America’s disaster and predicament to his successor. But the American people, by electing Obama, declared its anxiety and apprehension about the future towards which the policy of the likes of Bush is leading it, and so it decided to support someone calling for withdrawal from Iraq.

Al-Zawahri continued his blather by noting, “A failure in Iraq to which you have admitted, and a failure in Afghanistan to which the commanders of your army have admitted. The other thing to which I want to bring your attention is that what you’ve announced about how you’re going to reach an understanding with Iran and pull your troops out of Iraq to send them to Afghanistan is a policy which was destined for failure before it was born.”

This cat sounds like a man running scared itching to talk shit just the cat on the block who like popping shit right before he walked away with broken limbs and a disfigured face. Those B-2 bombers are coming for you al – Zawahri.

Here is the tape.

Mount Obama?

7 11 2008

Think I am joking? Not a chance. In a press release dated two days ago, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda W. Baldwin Spencer plans on renaming Boggy Peak (see picture) Mount Obama.

As much as I like the sound of that, I think this is going too far. I mean the brotha has not even been sworn in yet.

I wonder if Rahm Emanuel or David Axelrod had anything to do with this.

His Excellency, Barack Obama
President Elect of the United States of America


Antigua and Barbuda joins the American people, and the peoples of all nations, in celebrating your historic election as President of the United States of America.

As Chairman of the Group 77 and China, and as Chairman of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, I am conscious of the promise of your presidency in shaping a new paradigm in America’s relationship with the other nations of the world.

Your election will not only transform America, it can transform the world.

Your message of change will ignite hope and action in people of many countries who might still be passive in the face of inadequacies and injustice.

Your manifest devotion to family will strengthen families around the planet.

On behalf of the people and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, I take this opportunity to extend our condolences on the passing of your beloved grandmother.

In lasting tribute to your election, I shall take immediate measures for Antigua and Barbuda’s highest mountain peak to be dedicated in your honour and renamed “Mount Obama”.

The people of Antigua and Barbuda and the rest of the Caribbean keenly anticipate your visit to our region for the Summit of the Americas, in the early months of your presidency.

With assurances of my highest esteem,

W. Baldwin Spencer