Two major articles in today's Washington Post and New York Timesfocus in-depth on how the nation's worsening economy is presenting new opportunities -- and new challenges -- for the campaigns of U.S. Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain.
It looks like things were going McCain's way after the GOP convention -- Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin had electrified the base, Obama was losing ground and the Arizona senator took a slim lead.
Then the nation's finanical markets crashed, Palin-mania has subsided as many Americans didn't like what they've seen post-St. Paul and Democrats traditionally do better with pocketbook issues.
Now McCain has pulled out of Michigan and Obama is competitive in traditionally red states like Florida where foreclosures are epidemic; nationally, the economic news just keeps getting worse.
Amidst all of this, yesterday, I picked up a book, "Deer Hunting with Jesus" by Joe Bageant. It is in turn fascinating, frightening and depressing. The book addresses a question that has always bothered me: why do people who are so clearly hurt by the GOP's economic policies keep voting for them again and again and again? Another article in today's Washington Post highlights the economic struggles of a suburban Michigan enclave and focues on why, while some people there may vote for Obama, others struggling to make ends meet are still planning to vote for McCain, despite the fact that his economic proposals do nothing to help them or their children.
Until progressives find a way to reach the voters written about in "Deer Hunting with Jesus" and the Washington Post article, we will continue to lose their votes because they will continue to vote, not on economic issues, but social "hot button issues" such as abortion, guns and sex education. And, sadly, as many of them admitted, they simply will not vote for an African-American candidate. All in all, it is not their failure, but our failure, to explain to them how we will not allow globalization to leave them behind; how we will invest in their education; how we will ready them as we accelerate toward a 21st century economy.
In 2007, NDN conducted a series of polls on the how Americans view the economy. They are well worth reading here and here. I know I will be looking at them for answers.
Lastly, in what can be at best called a sophmoric effort to change the subject, the McCain campaign said yesterday that:
We are looking for a very aggressive last 30 days," said Greg Strimple, one of McCain's top advisers. "We are looking forward to turning a page on this financial crisis and getting back to discussing Mr. Obama's aggressively liberal record and how he will be too risky for Americans." "We're going to get a little tougher," a senior Republican operative said, indicating that a fresh batch of television ads is coming. "We've got to question this guy's associations. Very soon. There's no question that we have to change the subject here," said the operative, who was not authorized to discuss strategy and spoke on the condition of anonymity. [Washington Post, 10/04/08]
In response, the Obama campaign has launched a new ad on the economy, highlighting what has happened over the last eight years during the Bush-Cheney reign.
In the presidential debate last Friday, Jim Lehrer asked the candidates about their position on Russia. Characteristic of the dreadfully dull debate, they managed to give precisely the same response. Senators Barack Obama and John McCain both called Russia’s aggression into Georgia “unacceptable,” recognized the need to reassure our European allies, and stressed the importance of working with Moscow, rather than against it
Peering into the recent past, Obama has been consistently firm on Russia, but has stuck to his broader theme of making diplomacy and negotiation a first-string response. McCain takes a harsher tone, and has been accused of trying to take the U.S. back into a Cold War with Russia. He has talked up the threat Russia poses, proposed ejecting Russia from the G-8, and advocated the creation of a League of Democracies—an organization from which Russia would be excluded.
It is true that Russia has been flexing its military muscles recently—most obviously with the incursion in Georgia. In the conflict, however, the Russian military did little to show it deserves to be feared. The army’s most senior commander in the field was wounded when poor intelligence led them into a Georgian ambush. The military’s limited technology was nearly useless—even their radios didn’t work, forcing officers to communicate via cell phone. And most of the bombs dropped were not modern smart bombs, but older, dumber bombs.
Still, by most measures, Russia’s performance in the field was better than in either of the Chechen wars in the ‘90s, and Moscow is getting serious about upgrading everything from equipment to tactics. The Kremlin will increase defense spending by 26% next year, much of which will go toward improving and updating the country’s nuclear program.
Beyond bombs and submarines, Russia has been looking for friends among America’s antagonizers. Moscow just offered a $1 billion military loan to Hugo Chavez’s government in Caracas. In November, Russian warships will enter the Caribbean for the first time since the Cold War, on their way to joint exercises with the Venezuelan Navy. Russia has 10 warships docked in Syria, and is helping to renovate Tartus port; in Iran, Russian technology and fissile material is helping to build a nuclear reactor, and Russian surface-to-air missiles may protect it.
Higher oil prices have gotten Russia back on her feet, and the Kremlin’s activities of late indicate that the government seeks to be taken seriously. Increasingly isolated on the world stage, Russia is responding by building its own coalition and trying to establish power within its historical sphere of influence. Moscow is asserting itself particularly in the Middle East, establishing its own version of the Monroe Doctrine: This is our backyard, so keep your meddling fingers out.
Though Russia’s military is a shadow of its former self, and from a security perspective, Moscow does not presently pose a credible threat, Russia is capable of making life difficult for the U.S., whether by turning off the gas, by giving cover (both literal and political) to Iran, or by bolstering Chavez in Venezuela.
But Russia and the U.S. share a number of interests, many of which were laid out last week by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: Fighting terrorism, stopping nuclear proliferation, denuclearizing North Korea and finding a secure, stable resolution between Israel and the Palestinians, among others. John McCain’s aggressive, antagonistic ideas about Russia have the potential to become self-fulfilling prophecy. What we need now is not to escalate tension with a powerful state that has the capability of causing us great trouble, but to work together where we have common ground. The U.S. would be best served by keeping Russia engaged, rather than forcing it out into the cold.
When I first learned that U.S. Sen. John McCain had drafted Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate, I remember calling friends and saying, "Stick a fork in it. It's over. McCain is crazy. Obama's in."
Then came Palin's Oscar-worthy convention speech, the re-energized GOP base, the media frenzy. Suddenly, McCain wasn't so stupid. Or at least his advisers weren't.
Fast forward to now, five weeks later, the day of the first vice presidential debate. And what am I now? I am obsessed with Sarah Palin.
I am obsessed with Sarah because she's gotten this far on so little. To some, she has become a national joke. But to others, she has become a national hope. How can people in the same country looking at the same person feel so differently?
Apparently, even Palin's limited exposure has started to give pause to more and more Americans. According to a new Pew poll, "...opinions about Sarah Palin have become increasingly negative, with a majority of the public (51%) now saying that the Alaska governor is not qualified to become president if necessary; just 37% say she is qualified to serve as president. That represents a reversal of opinion since early September, shortly after the GOP convention. At that time, 52% said Palin was qualified to step in as president, if necessary."
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll had similar bad news for Sarah Barracuda: "Though she initially transformed the race with her energizing presence and a fiery convention speech, Palin is now a much less positive force: Six in 10 voters see her as lacking the experience to be an effective president, and a third are now less likely to vote for McCain because of her."
The more she opens her mouth (or just shuts it and smiles and smirks), the more her poll numbers drag her and McCain toward the abyss. In a column yesterday in the Washington Post, Ruth Marcus asked how McCain could be dismissive of Obama's alleged inexperience when McCain had chosen Palin. Marcus noted that Palin said she has been educated about the world -- and thus is ready to lead -- by having read extensively. And what did she read?
This would be more reassuring if Palin had demonstrated more evidence of having read extensively about history or world affairs. Asked in an interview for PBS's Charlie Rose show last year about her favorite authors, Palin cited C.S. Lewis -- "very, very deep" -- and Dr. George Sheehan, a now-deceased writer for Runner's magazine whose columns Palin still keeps on hand.
"Very inspiring and very motivating," she said. "He was an athlete and I think so much of what you learn in athletics about competition and healthy living that he was really able to encapsulate, has stayed with me all these years."
Also, she got a Garfield desk calendar for Christmas 1987 that made a big impression.
While I saw the whole series of Katie Couric interviews with Palin , I was most horrified by the installment in which Couric asks the Alaska governor about Roe v. Wade. While I am very strongly pro-choice, I accept that other people may feel very differently. I didn't have a problem with Palin's answer that she wanted to encourage a "culture" of life.
My problem, then? When Couric asked her if she could name another U.S. Supreme Court decision she disagreed with, she couldn't name one. Nothing. Nada. Zero. She just kept repeating the same words over and over -- buzz words about states' rights -- in a pathetic attempt to let the clock run out:
Couric Why, in your view, is Roe v. Wade a bad decision?
Sarah Palin: I think it should be a states' issue not a federal government-mandated, mandating yes or no on such an important issue. I'm, in that sense, a federalist, where I believe that states should have more say in the laws of their lands and individual areas. Now, foundationally, also, though, it's no secret that I'm pro-life that I believe in a culture of life is very important for this country. Personally that's what I would like to see, um, further embraced by America.
Couric: Do you think there's an inherent right to privacy in the Constitution?
Palin: I do. Yeah, I do.
Couric: The cornerstone of Roe v. Wade.
Palin: I do. And I believe that individual states can best handle what the people within the different constituencies in the 50 states would like to see their will ushered in an issue like that.
Couric: What other Supreme Court decisions do you disagree with?
Palin: Well, let's see. There's, of course in the great history of America there have been rulings, that's never going to be absolute consensus by every American. And there are those issues, again, like Roe v. Wade, where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So you know, going through the history of America, there would be others but …
Couric: Can you think of any?
Palin: Well, I could think of … any again, that could be best dealt with on a more local level. Maybe I would take issue with. But, you know, as mayor, and then as governor and even as a vice president, if I'm so privileged to serve, wouldn't be in a position of changing those things but in supporting the law of the land as it reads today.
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I was embarrassed for Palin and embarassed by the fact that she has come this far based on the ability of the GOP to continually market their inferior products in a superior way.
In yet another episode of the Sarah Palin-Katie Couric serial interview saga, Palin talked to the CBS anchorwoman about issues ranging from what newspapers she reads (she didn't name a specific one) to whether a 15-year-old girl raped by her father should have access to an abortion (she would encourage the child not to).
The interview aired last night and follows previous Palin-Couric interviews, which have been seen as disastrous for Palin, as she stumbled her way through them or just stopped talking and started smiling. I haven't yet been able to find the rumored segment of a portion of a Palin-Couric interview in which the Alaska governor can name only one U.S. Supreme Court decision (Roe V. Wade). If anyone unearths it, please let me know.
Notably, the Couric interviews have prompted criticism not only from Democrats, but also from prominent conservatives, including George Will.
One interesting tidbit: making small talk between different segments of the interview, Palin did make a candid admission to Couric that, "Sweat is my sanity." Seems moose hunting has taken a backseat for the time being.
With a few exceptions here and there (like not being able to name a single newspaper), Palin seems a bit surer of herself in this interview.
You can judge for yourself here:
Palin also found time to do a radio interview that involved decidedly more softballs (and decidely more six-packs).
"Oh, I think they're just not used to someone coming in from the outside saying you know what? It's time that normal Joe six-pack American is finally represented in the position of vice presidency, and I think that that's kind of taken some people off guard, and they’re out of sorts, and they’re ticked off about it," Palin told Hewitt.
Palin, who has complained this week about “gotcha journalism” on the campaign trail, told Hewitt that she invites the scrutiny, and that her recent media appearances have helped her better articulate her positions and prepare for her upcoming vice presidential debate with Sen. Joe Biden on Thursday.
“I have a degree in journalism also, so it surprises me that so much has changed since I received my education in journalistic ethics all those years ago,” Palin said when asked by Hewitt whether the Gibson and Couric interviews felt like “pop quizzes designed to embarrass” her. "I’m going to take those shots and those pop quizzes and just say that’s okay, those are good testing grounds. That makes somebody work even harder. It makes somebody be even clearer and more articulate in their positions. So really I don’t fight it. I invite it.”
And more from ABC News on Palin's new Joe Six-Pack gambit:
As the political world braces for Wednesday's Wall Street bailout vote in the U.S. Senate, Sarah Palin is stepping up her "Joe-Six Pack" pitch.
"It's time that normal Joe Six-Pack American is finally represented in the position of vice presidency, and I think that that's kind of taken some people off guard, and they're out of sorts, and they're ticked off about it," Palin said Tuesday on the Hugh Hewitt show. "But it's motivation for John McCain and I to work that much harder to make sure that our ticket is victorious, and we put government back on the side of the people of Joe Six-Pack like me."
Rasmussen Reports' Daily Presidential Tracking poll has some good news for U.S. Sen. Barack Obama post-debate:
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Tuesday—the first update with results based entirely upon interviews conducted following the first Presidential Debate--shows Barack Obama attracting 51% of the vote while John McCain earns 45%. Obama opened a five-point lead heading into Friday’s debate and has retained a five or six point edge every day since (see trends).
I'm no pollster, but if you look at the trend, Obama's margin after last Friday's debate has been +5 or +6 every day. Up until the day of the debate, the margins were +1, +2, +3 or even. Polls can only tell us so much, but this uptick for Obama may just be the story of the rest of the race unless McCain finds a dramatic game-changer (one that actually works).
U.S. Sen. John McCain is out on the campaign trail today in Des Moines. In an effort to sound presidential, he said, "Bipartisanship is a tough thing; never more so when you're trying to take necessary but publicly unpopular action. But inaction is not an option," according to CNN.
I guess bipartisanship doesn't include TV ads.
McCain has a new ad up today, and in the Arizona senator's new spirit of reaching across the aisle, the ad blames the Democrats and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama for allowing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to deteriorate to the point that the U.S. government had to take them over (thus sparking one of the flames that has set Wall Street ablaze).
Funny. McCain's ad doesn't mention that Fannie Mae paid $15,000 a month from the end of 2005 until just last month to a company owned by McCain campaign manager Rick Davis before it went under. Nor does it mention that McCain said recently that Davis had no involvement with the company for several years. Wrong.
The new McCain ad includes a special cameo (probably not willingly) by former President Bill Clinton. You can watch it here.
According to a very interesting article in today's Wall Street Journal, the pre-debate game plan for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has been changed, and in lieu of whatever she was planning to do to prep, she's now been sent to debate boot camp at U.S. Sen. John McCain's luxurious retreat in Sedona, Arizona (Which house is this? Seven or eight?).
According to Sedona's official Web site, the town has a spiritual side; it is "...a mecca for alternative healers," and its "...body-temples are complex multi-dimensional organisms, and Sedona healers apply their gifts to every level of the body/mind/spirit spectrum. You will benefit from their intuitive skills and compassionate hearts as well as their intellectual training and hands-on experience."
But I digress.
Two camps seem to have developed regarding Palin's abilities prior to her debate with U.S. Sen. Joe Biden this Thursday night (a murky third -- let's call it the conspiracy camp -- thinks the debate will never happen due to some kind of state emergency in Alaska or another McCain campaign suspension). The first camp believes that Palin is utterly unqualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. First populated by Democrats, this group has grown now to include conservatives and others such as Fareed Zakaria who are appalled at Palin's recent performances, particularly her series of interviews with CBS' Katie Couric.
Then there is the "Let Sarah Be Sarah" camp, which includes former Massachusetts Gov. and GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, who, according to the New York Times political blog said:
On the "Today" show this morning, Mr. Romney also talked about how the McCain campaign could use Ms. Palin more effectively. Citing her bad reviews after the broadcasts last week of interviews with Ms. Couric, the host Matt Lauer asked Mr. Romney whether something deeper was going on than just the fact that “the honeymoon was over,” and whether the former presidential candidate wondered if she should drop out of the race.
Mr. Romney dismissed that notion, saying Ms. Palin had executive experience as a governor and showed “great capacity.”
“And you know she’s not a lifelong politician,” he said. “She’s not the master of words that Joe Biden is. And as a result she’s going to come across like an ordinary citizen, a person of great capacity and that’s what John McCain wanted.”
Mr. Lauer also asked Mr. Romney his take on sentiments uttered earlier by Republican strategist Ed Rollins, who suggested that the McCain campaign’s decision to “put her in storage” — meaning limiting access to her through few media interviews or daily give-and-take — had broken her confidence. (That’s something Christopher Orr wrote about last week, at The New Republic: whether Ms. Palin has been so coached, and so constrained by advisers, that she had lost her own sense of self.)
Mr. Lauer’s question allowed Mr. Romney to offer advice to the McCain campaign for the next and final stage of the campaign:
“I think it’s going to be better for her to be out talking to more reporters and just being herself,” he said. “I think if you have only one or two interviews the focus goes on those and any mistake is going to be amplified dramatically. So let her get out there and be herself. And I think people will say you know, I like what I see. She’s a person who understands the needs of the American people.”
Unfortunately for those in the "Let Sarah Be Sarah" camp, Palin has been delivered right into the hands of McCain's two top campaign advisers: Steve Schmidt and Rick Davis. There is no chance that these Rovian proteges won't "drill, baby, drill" talking points into Palin's head until she collapses from exhaustion at her exclusive barracks.
But Palin seems to be taking it all in stride. According to her, she's been preparing for this debate since she was eight years old or so -- she started listening to Biden's speeches when she was in second grade:
The Obama campaign put out a new ad this morning riffing on the main Democratic triumph in the bailout bill: caps on executive severance pay. The primary target is McCain campaign advisor Carly Fiorina, who walked away from HP with a $42 million goodbye gift. Barack Obama says that's got to change.
Following the debate, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama's campaign was in the production studio late last night and this morning, the team is ready with its first post-debate ad, "Zero."
While last night's debate was billed as a foreign policy forum, all eyes are focused on America's ailing economy and the meltdown of its financial markets. The new Obama ad brings the larger debate back to the economy by criticizing U.S. Sen. John McCain for his failure to mention the "middle class" once during the 90-minute debate. It's a clever ad, aimed at showing that McCain just doesn't get it when it comes to the financial struggles of everyday people.
Incidentally, in the CNN poll Simon mentioned earlier, 58 percent of the respondents thought Obama would handle the economy better, versus 37 percent for McCain. In a CBS post-debate poll, we see similar numbers on the economy: 66 percent surveyed thought Obama would make the right decisions about the economy; 44 thought McCain would do so.
Just as Republicans have traditionally won out on national security issues in polling contests, Democrats have fared better than Republicans when it comes to economic issues. However, in the last few weeks, McCain seemed to have been making some serious inroads into Obama's edge on the economic front.
But then last Monday happened. Wall Street started to go belly up and there was McCain, at a rally, saying our economy is fundamentally strong. The last 10 days have been a complete financial meltown for the nation and a near political meltdown for McCain. He seems to have recovered a bit last night, but only time will tell.