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.

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

Voter Suppression and Provisional Ballots

4 11 2008

CNN is reporting “six Republican election board workers in Philadelphia were told to leave their polling precincts” since they lacked authorization such as a court order to work at that particular polling precinct. Apparently, some in the McCain-Palin campaign might respond by taking legal action. Campaign officials are even publicly suggesting that it’s part of an effort to intimidate Republicans in a part of the state where they don’t predominate.

Bill Porritt a campaign spokesperson told CNN “Election board officials guard the legitimacy of the election process and the idea that Republicans are being intimidated and banned for partisan purposes does not allow for an honest and open election process.”

Historically, its been the GOP who has led efforts to intimidate and suppress voter turnout, especially in neighborhoods filled with people of color, naturalized immigrants, and poor people. Coincidentally, 45 percent of the city is African American, 10.5 percent is Hispanic, nine percent is foreign born, and 21 percent lives below the poverty line, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau.

Nevertheless, certain Republican figures, such as former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton are propagating this ridiculous notion of “reverse intimidation” directed at GOP lawyers and officials.

Check it out.

Part of the GOP’s suppression strategy is to challenge votes, or dispute someone’s right to vote on technical grounds, at the polling sites, which inevitably extend wait times on lines. This often results in people having to cast provisional ballots, not regular ballots.

So what’s wrong with provisional ballots? Well, the Brennan Center explains:

In part because of their novelty, in many states, provisional ballots generated confusion before, during, and after the 2004 election. A number of states did not plan for provisional balloting until shortly before the election, and the rules kept changing up until the last minute. Not surprisingly, this led to widespread problems at the polls and afterward.

A report of the Election Protection Coalition found that provisional ballot problems were among the top five complaints registered on its 1-866-Our-Vote hotline. Most of the reported incidents consisted of complaints that provisional ballots were not available at polling sites, that poll workers did not offer or refused to allow voters to cast provisional ballots, and that poll workers were confused about provisional balloting procedures and rules.

Problems in administering provisional ballots may have disenfranchised many eligible voters. For example, where provisional ballots were not available or not offered, eligible voters were turned away from the polls as before HAVA. And provisional ballots also created problems that did not exist before. For example, reports from poll sites across the country suggest that many voters who should have been entitled to cast regular ballots were given provisional ballots—which had a lower chance of being counted—instead.

In addition, in part because of cumbersome procedures, provisional ballots led to delays at many polling places; the resulting long lines peeled off a not insubstantial number of voters.

Polling Still Trending in Obama’s Direction

24 10 2008

Now while most political observers fully expect the race to tighten up in the next few days nationally and in certain battleground states, the most recent polling spell nothing but doom for John McCain. Obama has the lead in two different polls in Florida and the same is true of Indiana.  He is also leading in at least one poll in Montana, and continues to lead by double digits in several different Ohio and Pennsylvania polls, and is up by a whopping 22.3 points in Michigan.

Take a look.

Though Nate Silver concedes much of this is good news for the Obama campaign, he cautions Obama supporters against reading too much into the recent polling.

To find good news for McCain, you have to go South — to the deep South — where new polling in Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana suggests that those states have yet to become competitive.

As a result of all of this, there is now no perceptible rebound for John McCain; in fact, the race may still be trending toward Obama, although the safer assumption is that it’s flat. Meanwhile, Obama’s electoral position appears as strong as ever. John McCain’s chances of winning the election have dwindled to 3.7%, down from 6.5% yesterday.

Today’s article in the Washington Post on the recent polling summarized the implications of the findings:

What all the polls, battleground and national, point to is that Obama now has multiple routes to 270 electoral votes, the winning number, while McCain has to win virtually everything that is competitive. Pollster.com lists seven tossup states. All were won by President Bush four years ago.

Many analysts have long predicted that the race could stay close until the end but that it could pop open in the final weeks — and if that happened, it would most likely go in Obama’s direction.

(H/T: FiveThirtyEight.com)