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City of Brass

City of Brass

playing with fire

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

Newsweek is doing a seven-part story on the 2008 campaign which provides all manner of fascinating behind-the-scenes perspectives. The installment on the period of time spanning the debates is notable for the discussion of how the Otherization of Obama proceeded in the background:

At the Clearwater rally, someone in the crowd used a racial epithet
about a black sound man for NBC, and someone else reportedly yelled
“Kill him!” in an ambiguous reference to either Ayers or Obama. By the
end of the week, YouTube was showing film clips of Palin crowds
shouting “Treason!”, “Off with his head!” and “He is a bomb!” At a
McCain-Palin rally in Strongsville, Ohio, a man called Obama a “one-man
terror cell,” and in one unsettling film clip a voter’s young daughter
exclaims about Obama, “You need gloves to touch him!”

Palin,
the polls showed, had succeeded in rallying the Republican base. But
she, or the simmering anger around her, helped make Obama supporters
out of countless independent voters.

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On the weekend
between the second and third debates, Congressman John Lewis–a
civil-rights hero who had been beaten while staging nonviolent protests
during the 1960s–issued a press release accusing McCain and Palin of
“playing with fire” and seeming to compare McCain to former Alabama
governor George Wallace, a segregationist infamous for stirring racial
fears. McCain was stunned. He had devoted a chapter to Lewis in one of
his books, “Why Courage Matters.” He so admired Lewis that he had taken
his children to meet him.

McCain was on his bus, about
to board a plane in Moline, Ill., when he read the remarks on an aide’s
BlackBerry. He was so dumbfounded that he held the plane on the tarmac
while he considered how to respond. Salter, who had penned the chapter
on Lewis, urged McCain to remain more dignified than Lewis had been in
his remarks. But Schmidt called in from headquarters brimming with
outrage. “Sir,” said Schmidt, “he called you a racist. It must be
responded to.” Nicolle Wallace agreed. Salter was not so sure. He was
“very pained” over the incident, Schmidt later recalled about Salter,
but his instinct told him not to get his boss into a name-calling fight
with a martyr of the civil-rights movement. McCain decided to go with
Schmidt and put out a strong statement calling on Obama to “immediately
and personally repudiate these outrageous and divisive comments.”
(Obama left it to a spokesman to blandly state, “Senator Obama does not
believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way
comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies.”)

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According
to several aides, McCain had trouble shaking his sadness over Lewis’s
statement. To the reporters traveling with McCain, the candidate seemed
uncertain, as if he was not quite sure what he had gotten himself into.
In an effort to raise doubts about Obama, McCain had given a stump
speech in which he asked the audience, “Who is Barack Obama?”
At an earlier rally in Albuquerque a man shouted, “A terrorist!” McCain
paused, taken aback. He looked surprised, troubled. But he continued
with the speech. (Salter later said McCain wasn’t sure that he had
heard correctly.)

A couple of days later, at a rally in
Lakeville, Minn., he seemed to find his bearings. “If you want a fight,
we will fight,” he said. “But we will be respectful. I admire Senator
Obama and his accomplishments. I will respect him, and I want–no, no,”
McCain said to loud boos. “I want everyone to be respectful.” In the
question-and-answer period, a middle-aged woman in a bright red shirt
took the mike and said, “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him,
and he’s not, he’s not, he’s a, um–he’s an Arab.”

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“No.
No, ma’am. No, ma’am. No, ma’am. No, ma’am,” McCain said, taking back
the wireless mike. “He’s a decent family man, a citizen, that I just
happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues; that’s what
this campaign is about. He’s not. Thank you.”

For what it’s worth, the Secret Service reviewed the tapes and it seems that no one actually yelled “kill him” at the Palin rally, but everything else is as described above.

It’s clear that McCain was reluctant to enter the fever swamp, whereas Palin marched right in. I note that it took Lewis’ denunciation for McCain to really wake up to what was going on, and after that point is when the candidate started trying to tamp it down.

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The campaign’s internal polls showed that those lower-income swing
voters in industrial states had not forgotten about Wright. In the view
of some of his advisers, McCain had a chance to really hurt Obama by
dredging up those videotapes of his longtime pastor crying “Goddam
America!” But McCain did not want to. He did not want to do anything
that smacked of racism. Some of his aides had quietly wished that the
527s, the independent- expenditure groups, would do the campaign’s
dirty work by running ads about Wright. Yet others worried that the
527s would indeed run lurid ads about Wright–and that McCain would get
the blame. In any case, the big conservative moneymen who might fund
such a smear campaign were lying low, and not just because their
portfolios were suffering in the stock-market dive. They didn’t want to
be called racist, either.

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McCain had set firm
boundaries: no Jeremiah Wright; no attacking Michelle Obama; no
attacking Obama for not serving in the military. McCain balked at an ad
using images of children that suggested that Obama might not protect
them from terrorism; Schmidt vetoed ads suggesting that Obama was soft
on crime (no Willie Hortons); and before word even got to McCain,
Schmidt and Salter scuttled a “celebrity” ad of Obama dancing with
talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres (the sight of a black man dancing with a
lesbian was deemed too provocative).

However, the damage had been done:

“I’m worried,” Gregory Craig said to a NEWSWEEK reporter in
mid-October. He was concerned that the frenzied atmosphere at the Palin
rallies would encourage someone to do something violent toward Obama.
He was not the only one in the Obama campaign thinking the unthinkable.
The campaign was provided with reports from the Secret Service showing
a sharp and very disturbing increase in threats to Obama in September
and early October. Michelle was shaken by the vituperative crowds and
the hot rhetoric from the GOP candidates. “Why would they try to make
people hate us?” she asked Valerie Jarrett. Several of Obama’s friends
in the Senate were shocked by the GOP rabble-rousing. Dick Durbin, the
U.S. senator from Illinois who pushed for early Secret Service coverage
for Obama, called Lindsey Graham, who was traveling with McCain.

That damage persists now, after the election.

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Mandate – Obama takes North Carolina

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

Incredible. North Carolina is now officially for Obama, bringing his EV total to 364 and total number of states flipped from red to blue to nine. Missouri is the sole remaining state to be counted, with a margin of mere 10,000 votes in McCain’s advantage so far. If MO also flips blue then that will push Obama to 375.

I mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating – despite desperate attempts by Republicans to spin/argue that America is a “center-right” nation, Obama’s margin of victory is truly a mandate for change. Recall that after winning re-election in 2004, President Bush laid claim to a mandate and “political capital”, on the strength of his 35 EV and 3 million voter margin over John Kerry. For comparison, including NC and excluding MO, Obama has a 201 EV and 7.7 million voter margin over McCain. Obama earned 2.5 million more votes than Bush did in 2004; whereas McCain earned 2.2 million fewer votes than Kerry. Percentage-wise, Bush’s margin over Kerry was 3% whereas Obama’s margin over McCain was 7%. By every possible metric, therefore, Obama’s victory was comprehensive and staggering.

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Incidentally, Reagan and Nixon earned more EVs than Obama did in their respective victories, but far far fewer votes: Reagan earned 44 million votes in 1980 and Nixon earned 47 million in 1972, compared to Obama’s 64.5 million. In terms of voter turnout, 2008 saw 64.1% of voters going to the polls, compared to 52.6% in 1980 and 55.2% in 1972. Unlike Republicans, Democrats have seen their share of the vote increase steadily with every election in recent history.

Of course, Reagan and Nixon had EV totals far higher, but that reflects the discrete apportionment of the Electoral College. The only valid metric for determining a mandate is the popular vote, since otherwise you’d have to argue that the vote of one Montanan equals the vote of 100 Californians in influence.

As John McCain said in his concession speech, Americans spoke clearly on Election Night, and gave Obama a clear and overwhelming mandate for change. Obama needs to seize the genuine political capital he’s been loaned by the American people and make sure not to squander it. After all, America is clearly a center-left nation.

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The first urban president

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

Christof at Intermodality blog points out that Obama is the first Urban president in modern times, whose home is within walking distance of public transport:

Obama lives only four miles from the center of the third
largest city of the United States, and his political roots are
unquestionably urban. That should not be remarkable in a country where
80% of the population lives in metropolitan areas. But our politics has
valued “small town values” and as a result the issues of cities —
traffic congestion, for example — have not been a major part of the
national dialog. But we can hope that’s changing. Many of the places
that helped swing this election — the Philadelphia suburbs, Northern
Virginia, Denver — are places that have rail transit, are building rail
transit, or are demanding rail transit. Will that shape the policy
debates to come?

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It should be noted that Joe Biden has been a proponent of – and daily
commuter on – Amtrak for decades. I think at bare minimum, grand designs like the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative are suddenly on the table, and voters in California already approved Proposition 1A, a high speed rail initiative between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The argument for rail is also part of the energy independence argument, as rail is more fuel-efficient per passenger than flying, especially for shorter distances.

On a more prosaic level, instead of hearing about President Bush clearing brush from his Crawford ranch, we are going to be hearing about President Obama returning home to the Chicago suburbs. As a result, there’s going to be enormous media scrutiny on Obama at “home”, far beyond what Bush dealt with, because of the increased accessibility. In that sense even Obama’s vacations will be working ones, because his largest constituencies are right outside his front door, and more immediate in his face than they are from behind the walled compound at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or out on some country ranch.

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Recall that President Clinton’s offices are in Harlem, NYC – that location has given Clinton a more direct, tangible connection with the issues he fights for in the abstract using his Clinton Global Initiative. The same dynamic of engagement will apply to Obama. It’s important for a President to get outside the Beltway, but equally important they don’t go so far away that they are removed from everything else.

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BREAKING: Rahm accepts Chief of Staff job

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

Emannuel Rahm has accepted Obama’s offer to be Chief of Staff:

“The chief” is sometimes known as the second most powerful person in
Washington. The job has vast authority, as the boss of the hundreds of
aides who work directly for the president, a public face of the
administration on television, and a negotiator and salesman on Capitol
Hill.

The appointment was the first Obama offered after his election, and
Emanuel pondered the opportunity for about 24 hours. Friends said
Emanuel accepted the job because he thought it was important to serve
this historic administration despite the potential strain on his wife,
Amy Rule, and their three children, who live in the Chicago area.

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It’s pretty disingenuous of some Republicans to gripe that Rahm’s selection is somehow antithetical to Obama’s intention to  change the political climate. The COS is not a negotiator, but the President’s representative and advocate for his policies, and so needs to be a forceful and assertive voice. Plus, Obama is signaling that he will maintain order and discipline in his Administration staff by choosing Rahm, which will be very good for leak control. This is a supremely competent pick for the role.

And of course, it has the added bonus of making some conspiracy theorists’ heads explode:

So the President-elect who the Internet and my uncle say is a closet
Muslim madrasa alumnus is poised to name a Congressman who the Internet
and my uncle says is a top Mossad double agent as his White House Chief
of Staff.

heh.

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