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Archive for April, 2007

The Issue of Scope

Last Thursday’s democratic debate on MSNBC was something of a draw. It was not harmful, nor was it helpful; it was not unproductive per se, but neither was it truly constructive. And while I laughed or nodded at various points throughout the 90-minute Q& A, it was always in a manner that was equally predictable and routine as the questions and answers themselves. I was playing the role of the Viewer while they played their roles as Moderators and Candidates – parts we all seem to know by heart. 

The truth is I felt throughout that I was not watching a debate; I was watching a pageant. This was not a dynamic contest of argumentation or even a discussion of opposing viewpoints among rivals; it was an elaborate, public presentation of tiresome tradition and stagecraft. In a discussion, there is momentum and emotion, with the constant chance of spontaneity. In a pageant, there is merely prompt and pomp, with the assurance of banality.   

Last Thursday, we were given a pageant, my friends. 

Of course, you turn to a debate in the first place seeking definition – of the candidates, of the issues, of the race itself. That is the primary purpose of a debate. Instead, the cramped and stilted format of the televised debate, with its timed responses and controlled settings, only leaves you with more questions than answers and ultimately more reliant on rumor than reality. The format negatively impacts the candidates as well, causing them to seem stilted and their positions to seem cramped. It is simply outside the scope of the televised debate format to be of any real value when it comes to substantially defining anything at all.  

And that is my only takeaway from last week’s debate: this issue of scope. 

Barack Obama is running a campaign of far-reaching ambition and enormous potential. (more…)

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More About Climate Change

With Earth Day recently behind the 2008 campaigners, the heat is on with regard to their respective positions on climate change.  Brad Knickerbocker of the Christian Science Monitor recently summarized some of the candidates and their respective positions in his article, “’08 hopefuls tout climate-change plans.”  Some of the highlights of the article are below:

*John McCain:  Recently delivered a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in DC citing the importance of global warming and the need to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

*Hillary Clinton:  Has declared she will begin a “strategic energy fund, invest oil companies’ ‘windfall profits’ in renewable energy, and obtain 20 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewable resources by 2020.”  Furthermore she will make her campaign carbon neutral.

*John Edwards:  Has committed to work toward energy independence and create a “new energy economy” to deal with global warming.

*Barack Obama:  Focus on the fuel efficiency of vehicles and the utilization of ethanol.

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You can always tell an Ugly American.

But you can’t tell him much. He’s too busy spewing invective to hear you. He’s vulgar, he’s violent and he’s intellectually stunted. He can’t spell, his grammar and syntax are an exercise in incoherence. His vocabulary skills are so limited he is incapable of civilized, articulate communication. He substitutes abusive, threatening, obscene bombast for reason. He’s no fan of dialogue, of diversity. The very idea that there might be more than one opinion, more than a single side to complex issues, is more than he can handle. That would mean he’d have to listen. Or think. Or be willing to learn something new.

The Ugly American is the antithesis of everything Barack Obama represents. (more…)

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In their first debate of Campaign 2008, Democrats clearly aimed to vote one candidate off the island.

By Richard Wolffe (Newsweek)

April 26, 2007 – One one point, they all tried to agree. The serious business of choosing a presidential candidate should not be reduced to TV entertainment. “This isn’t a game show,” said Joe Biden. “This isn’t a football game. This isn’t win or lose.” (The Delaware senator must have missed the South Carolina State University marching band, which entertained the TV audience outside the Orangeburg, South Carolina debate hall where the Democrats held their first debate of Campaign 2008.) Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio congressman who rarely sees eye-to-eye with Biden, seconded the thought “This isn’t American Idol here,” he declared, to the relief of Hillary Clinton, whose singing voice is less robust than her Iraq policy.

Still, Kucinich had to concede that the evening was, on some level, a theatrical performance. “We’re choosing a president,” he explained helpfully. “And we have to look at the audition that occurred that in 2003, when my good friends were called upon to make a decision and then made the wrong decision.”

In the reality TV show that is the 2008 campaign, the Democratic field ganged up on one contender, with the clear intention of voting him off the island. Hillary Clinton may be the frontrunner in the polls, but Barack Obama was the only candidate to draw repeated fire from his rivals. (more…)

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“Obama Outlines His Foreign Policy Views”
This past Monday, Obama spoke before the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.  Obama both criticized the Bush Administration and outlined his own foreign policy views.  Specifically:

*Foreign aid would increase (aid would double from current levels to $50 billion by 2012)

*Alliances with other nations would be repaired and strengthened

*Military would be strengthened (increasing ground forces and focusing on language training)

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A Nation in the Middle

Of all the problems I have with our current president, by far the greatest is that he is a true divider. The American melting pot is not an antiquated idea, and we all can see it everywhere we look. In a country that is as evenly divided as the U.S., could there ever be anything worse than a leader who systematically denies what half of the population wants? Today we saw an outstanding example of things done a different, better way. Today Obama gave his first major policy speech, outlining his 5-point foreign policy plan entitled The American Moment (full text).

The overarching theme of the speech was a shift away from the unilateralism that has been the hallmark of the current administration. Obama spoke about common humanity, marshalling a global effort, and constructing alliances and (gasp!) partnerships. “We must neither retreat from the world nor try to bully it into submission — we must lead the world, by deed and example.” Leading by a combination of morality and might resonates with many. Our powerful status requires that we play a role as a global leader, but as a party in the global community and not simply attempting to be a global dictator. Some might call his call for increasing the size of the military and taking a “cap-and-trade” system to global warming pandering to the right, I see them more as appropriate middle ground ideas for a nation in the middle.

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Setting the Story

The campaign trail to the primaries is long, and with ten months still ahead it will pass through a number of seasons along the way. And I’m not talking about winter, spring, summer, and fall; I’m talking about political seasons – those crucial intervals over the course of any campaign that are often self-contained according to their own unique objectives, demands, and questions. Each season will test the candidates in different ways, and a candidate’s success will depend on his or her ability to meet the challenges from one season to another. In a sense, for the candidates, each season is a matter of political survival.   

For instance, the candidates just emerged from the so-called ‘Money Primary’ where the greatest emphasis in the race was on who could display their strength in terms of donations. Whose bankroll, in other words, most reflected the confidence of the people? That was the greatest objective of that particular season: fundraise your way to the front of the race. And by now we all know who emerged as the ‘winners’ of that particular season. Certainly though, with so much time remaining in the campaign, we can expect new objectives to present themselves to the candidates as time rolls on – objectives that will test them all in varying ways on their policy, performance, personality, and ultimately, their potential.  

The weeks following the ‘Money Primary’ have introduced a new political season; one that is perhaps less substantive and far tamer, focusing in broad strokes on the personalities at the heart of these campaigns. Mitt Romney has become the focus of YouTube’s “You Choose ’08 Spotlight” series; John Edwards embarrassingly admitted to having paid $800 for two haircuts while on the trail; John McCain took a heavily-armed entourage with him to a market in Baghdad while boasting the city’s security. This is a season that is less concerned with profiles in courage and more concerned with profiles in general.  

In fairness, I must briefly acknowledge that this is of course due in part to major and unexpected national events happening both in and outside politics in recent weeks. Inside politics, attention has been on the Alberto Gonzalez scandal and the Supreme Court decision regarding partial-birth abortion. Outside politics, there has been the Don Imus situation as well as the tragedies at Virginia Tech. These events rightly placed the presidential campaigns on the backburner. Yet, the campaigns roll on, and in the context of the recent weeks, the objective has mostly been on personal statements and personal responses to all of these events. The candidates have offered good-intentioned personal takes on these situations, which has in effect further contributed to this current season of crafting the personal profile. 

This season is actually advantageous to the candidates in a sense as it allows each a certain space in which to establish his or her personality in the minds of the voters. Looking at Obama’s campaign over the course of the last few weeks, I see that he too has taken up an emphasis on his own personal profile. First, he appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman and chatted about his smoking habit as well as his disinterest in the vice presidency. And while the numerous rallies are growing in attendees and enthusiasm from Atlanta to Milwaukee, from Tampa to Boston, the message is largely the same from one venue to the next – a quick summary of The Audacity of Hope. Aside from Obama’s recent initiative to combat global warming, this has not been a season of policy for his campaign; it is instead a season of personality. And so it seems, his objective at this point, is to go city by city and introduce himself personally. 

For Obama, this is a smart move. And the reason is this: success in politics largely depends on one’s ability to promote a personal narrative.

(more…)

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