Thursday, February 28, 2008

It's the Authenticity, Stupid

The Obama story has been fascinating to watch unfold.

Remember, Hillary Clinton was supposed to be the unstoppable force, the inevitable candidate of the Democrats. Obama was the alternative, anyone-but-Hillary candidate. He was the candidate you supported if you didn’t like Hillary and although the party leaders were for her, lots of ordinary people don’t like Hillary. Bill they like but Hillary is not Bill. So Obama started with some powerful support just because he wasn’t her.

Obama is best known for having given a great speech at the Democratic convention in 2004 about there being one America – not a collection of factions and ethnicities. (It’s ironic that Bill Clinton was given the same sort of opportunity at the 1988 convention and was booed off the stage for talking too long – yet won the presidency four years later.)

Obama has delivered essentially the same speech about one America ever since and people love it because although he is vague, Obama seems to be promising a post-racial, post-partisan era. I can’t speak for all Americans but for me this is an extremely attractive promise after so many years of blind hatred of Bush, Clinton, Reagan, etc. And while race is endlessly talked about in the U.S. it’s never a productive debate. The divisions by race and by political party are now so deep that it’s easy to imagine two or more Americas separate and bitterly antagonistic. So when a black Democrat says we should be “one America,” that’s an exciting and refreshing change.

As for some background, everyone here remembers Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech when he said “I have a dream”, but few people could tell you what exactly his dream was even though he defined it clearly in the very next lines. “I have a dream that my daughters will live in a country where they are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of the character.” I think people want race and color to be inconsequential. Yet in the past 30 years, race has become the most important thing and that’s a denial of the civil rights movement’s goal of a “color-blind” society. Ironically, the people who have the most to gain from this emphasis on skin color are black politicians, such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and hundreds more around the country.

Here’s Charles Barron of New York one of the most divisive politicians in the country:

These leaders, who are almost exclusively Democrat, have appealed to ethnic loyalty to keep themselves secure in their small districts. Few have attempted to appeal to a broader group of voters which is why there are very few black senators (senators are elected by an entire state of millions not just a district of 30,000 people). At the same time the Democrats need the vote of every African-American just to be competitive. In 2000, Al Gore got 95% of black votes and he still lost. To get 95% of any large and dissimilar group of voters spread across a continent you basically need to cultivate resentment and fear of the other party. So there has been a poisonous cycle of division, distrust, and race fixation at work that is very different than Dr. King’s dream.

Obama seems to be saying that by voting for him you will be voting for an end to that cycle.

On the cynical side, Obama needs to say this in order to not be seen as “the black candidate” which would limit his appeal to African-American voters who are only about 10% of the total. Even more troubling, his post-racial message is essentially an appeal to vote for him because of his skin color rather than his character.

But what makes this more palatable is that he radiates an enormous sense of character.

Much is made of his big speeches in huge arenas but his real strength is in small and unscripted moments. He answers questions and responds to situations with grace and intelligence. He is never flustered. He never loses his cool. And even when he disagrees with you, he pays respect to your views. This is the polar opposite of Hillary who is strident, combative, and heavily scripted by her consultants. My favorite line of hers is “We need sound solutions not sound bites,” which is itself a sound bite.

If Obama wins the nomination, he’ll face John McCain who is similarly cool and appealing in a non-partisan way. Clearly voters want candidates who are authentic and unscripted. It will make for a very refreshing campaign.

Obama’s vulnerability is that up until now he has made himself a blank wall on which you can project anything you like. If he wins the next state primaries on Tuesday, he will have defeated Hillary and will be nominated at the party convention in July. Between now and then it will be very difficult to maintain the same level of enthusiasm that he enjoys now. Of course, Hillary could refuse to quit and the then the convention would be an ugly fight where race will surely become an issue.

I’ve read about the enthusiasm for Obama in Germany and elsewhere and I think it is easy to say that this is a superficial understanding of the man. But as much as we like to think that national elections are about issues and policies, voters have no way of knowing what actual policies any new administration will successfully pursue. Therefore, what these elections come down to are the “superficial” qualities.

I actually don’t think style and eloquence are entirely superficial. The way a candidate answers unanticipated questions and expresses ideas is important. People communicate in many non-verbal ways and Obama is like Kennedy in the graceful way he communicates non-verbally. George W. Bush, (who I still support even though I may be the only one left), has never been able to articulate his ideas verbally or non-verbally and this has been his undoing.

My prediction, Obama wins the nomination but loses against McCain because the he’s just too inexperienced. Sure, Hillary tried to tag him with this charge but Hillary's experience is roughly the same as Lady Bird Johnson's. McCain, by contrast, has spent twice as much time in a Vietcong prison camp as Obama has spent in the Senate.

Obama will have to articulate and defend positions and policies that differ markedly from McCain's. He'll probably pivot to the right, but that will alarm the lefties who have bet the farm on Obama and will be the first to pop the mania bubble once they realize they're about to be betrayed yet again.

BTW, I'm always wrong.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Baby It's Still Cold Outside

In case you're worried about melting ice caps, torrid tenperatures and dire global warming forecasts.


The Canadian Ice Service (where i get all my Canadian ice data) says that the feared ice melt has reversed. In fact, the ice is 10cm thicker this year than last.

For those who prefer more tangible evidence, here's what Newfoundland looked like last week from an inbound European jetliner:

Photo via Virtual Memoirist.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Everyone On Earth Lied -- People Died

An "unholy axis"? That sounds familiar. Saddam's weapons of mass destruction? That rings a bell too.

Let me get this straight. At around minute 5:20, Bubba says Saddam declared specific quantities of WMD and then failed to prove to UNSCOM that he destroyed them. So that means Saddam's WMD actually did exist and that Bush didn't just make all that stuff up.

Big Bill even says that Saddam was hiding his weapons from inspectors, perhaps stealing them away to Syria.

And get a load of Bill emoting big time at minute 9:00 when he forecasts what would happen if we ignored Saddam and the threat he poses.

"Some day, some way, I guarantee you, he'll use the arsenal. And I think every one of you who's really worked on this for any length of time believes that, too."

Man, that all sounds really familar too. This must be some sort of Karl Rove dirty trick. Or if not, then maybe George W. Bush was telling the truth based on the intelligence that existed at the time and made a courageous -- and as it turns out, lonely -- decision to act on that intel in the best interests of the United States.


Friday, February 08, 2008

Inexplicable Friday Video

I've always thought Brewer & Shipley were underappreaciated 1960s artifacts. But this video makes me think they were both more popular than I thought and more deeply misunderstood than I could ever imagine.

From the irreplacible 2 Blowhards via Boing Boing

Thursday, February 07, 2008

From the Jaws of Victory?

If General Petraeus is doing such a great job in Iraq, why does the Pentagon what to rotate him out? Who’s running our strategic national defense anyway, military strategists or the DoD human resources department?

That’s the question asked in a terrific article today in The Wall Street Journal by Dr. Nadia Schadlow, one of the sharpest observers of the military and one day a household name – already is in some households.

She makes a terrific point.

Yes, it makes sense to rotate soldiers out of battle theaters every 12 months or so, but not the commanders. And when a commander rotates out, he takes his entire staff with him.

This makes no sense and it’s at odds with the Pentagon’s counterinsurgency policy (COIN) and with past history. McArthur spend 11 years in Asia before he rotated back to the United States.

Fortunately Patraeus has declined the rotation so he could stay and finish the job. Hopefully this article will spark some debate around a very shortsighted policy.

Friday, February 01, 2008


Funny, when I tell my Democrat friends that I can see myself voting for Barack Obama they assume I’m trying to trick them into supporting the weaker of the two Democratic candidates for President.

Actually, my sense is that registered Republicans, neo-conservatives, paleo-conservatives, extreme-radical-ultra-conservatives, and true patriots everywhere would sooner vote for Obama than Hillary even under threat of waterboarding.

And it’s not just an understandable aversion to the Clintons. The real reasons for furtive right-wing Obamarama are difficult for Democrats to comprehend.

First, it’s about race. Or more specifically, it’s not about race. Because Obama has until now not claimed victim status, he holds out the tantalizing possibility that we can finally transcend the closed loop discussion of race and put the bigotry game behind us – that game being that bigotry is acceptable depending on what ethnic group you belong to. The Obama promise is that if he’s elected, race is no longer an issue in the United States.

And Obama is uncannily suited to deliver on this promise. He is, after all, literally an African-American. He can’t claim a legacy burden of slavery. His mom is from Kansas. He grew up in Hawaii. Culturally, the guy is whiter than I am. Yet he has a nearly pan-ethnic legitimacy.

To call him the “black candidate” is not only wrong, it’s insulting to me as a self-described educated, three button suit wearing, post-baby-boomer. But that’s why the Clintons want to classify him as black. Because the “black candidate” only appeals to 13% of the population. Divide and conquer is what multicultural identity politics is all about anyway.

The other thing Obama has going for him is that he’s not a Clinton and that he seems to unnerve them and force them to reveal their nefarious characters.

I love the following clip. Everyone has seen it by now. It's the trifecta of Obamaramarism.

It shows Bill Clinton as the thin-skinned, red-faced, sputtering, finger-wagging political hack wallowing in self-pity he is rather than the statesman philanthropist he’d like to be. It spookily reminds you of “that woman. Miss Lewinski.” And best of all, it makes Bill the candidate, not Hillary. She’s suddenly inconsequential. And if Obama can beat Bill, then he’s just slayed the biggest (most lovable) bear in the woods.
Anymore victories like this and the Clintons are screwed.

Sure, Obama scores big with But he’s still a cipher. He’s an empty vessel. He’s a blank wall that reflects anything you want to project onto it. And he can easily pivot to the right once he’s got the Democratic nomination.

I’m not particularly worried about his rote anti-war ranting. If that’s the price of neutralizing bigotry and discrediting the Clintons forever, I’ll pay it. Besides, if he’s elected, he’ll learn soon enough that all that crap about ending the occupation in Iraq so we can bolster the occupation in Afghanistan doesn’t exactly fly in the real world.