Friday, August 22, 2008
The Political Hoedown
Notes...Pt 2; Obama's VP (oh, and that other guy's); McCain is not Dole; Etc.
To finish the recap of things that happened since last we met at the beginning of the summer, we must look to the TV.
Most states have begun getting commercials for either McCain or Obama (or both, in some places). Of these, the most famous McCain commercial was a satirical jab at Obama's celebrity, equating it to the vapidity of Paris Hilton and her ilk. While there is a certain humor in pointing out that a candidate for president has the media presence of a movie star, not all saw it as that humorous, Paris included. Obama fired back with a jokey response about how McCain should tell us what is great about him, instead of what is bad about Obama. It was all forgotten a week later.
News cycles move faster this election year than any previous. What is major news one week is overcome by some other brush fire the next. Why focus on Obama's far more important trip to Europe and the Middle East when you have a commercial (and a humor-tinged one at that) to discuss? Thank you, media.
Then again, moving focus from the trip to commercial artfully dodges questions about Obama's conduct overseas. Look, I even talked about it second!
So Obama left the country for a while and visited foreigners. He talked with heads of state, citizens of other countries, generals, tribal leaders, the foreign press. Two items caught real attention: the Berlin speech and the Iraqi tribal leaders meeting.
The former saw him performing for a packed audience before the Victory Column, trying to capture the same feeling as JFK or Ronald Reagan when they gave their big speeches ("Ich bin ein Berliner." "Tear down this wall!"). While his German audience reacted very positively, the analysis stateside of the speech wasn't as high. Simply put, we've heard this stump speech at most campaign rallies and post-primary celebrations. Nothing new for us, per se, but if the election were held tomorrow, and in Germany, Obama would win.
And that has a lot to do with Obama's multinational appeal and approach. He has stated he wants to sit down with everyone of importance (and in some cases, infamy) to discuss how we all move forward as one people, one world. Bring the US back to the international table again. Kerry tried this four years ago, to less-than-stellar returns. The result - a stunning electoral and popular vote loss - means that US citizens want to be the focus of the campaign, not Europeans.
In Iraq, Obama got to see first hand the progress the military and Iraq was making in securing and rebuilding a country that suffered under a totalitarian regime for decades, as well as three major wars (Iran/Iraq; Persian Gulf; Iraq War '03). It's no secret Obama has been preaching withdrawal since day 1, but when faced with tribal leaders who requested - pleaded? - for the US to keep a military presence in the country, what did he do?
While he did say he wanted withdrawal, preferably the 16-month plan, his language had softened to a lingering American presence and to when this all would be pushed through. Perhaps that also had to do with Gen. Petraeus urging Obama to rethink his withdrawal policy, since it operationally tied his hands by binding him to a timetable. Positioning his position as more stately a "drawdown" of troops, as opposed to rasher timetables earlier desired (everything gone by spring 08 and damn the surge!), helps him with those who supported the war and said the surge would work.
"I believe that the situation in Iraq is more secure than it was a year and a half ago," Obama said. "I think that the definition of success depends on how you look at it." No doubt he judges it a smaller failure than the invasion, since the security level should've been where it is today several years ago. No argument on that last bit (though I think the surge has been a great success, following the Powell doctrine more than Rumsfeld's).
Still, the overall effect of the trip was to solidify in foreigners' minds that Obama is thinking of them as much as US citizens, and would continue to do so if President. The end of "cowboy diplomacy."
Who vill vin da veepstakes? Obama knows, but he isn't telling.
Did you know Evan Bayh (Sen. IN, D) was for the Iraq War? He appeared with Bush in 2002 in support of action in Iraq. That's one way to win over hawks. Add to that his appeal in a Republican state, and I think you're looking at the next VP.
Biden says he isn't the guy (code maybe, hinting at a woman?), but Vegas odds still places him at the top of the heap. The other big names (Clinton, Sebelius, Kaine, Webb, Hagel) have been quiet about this topic.
And rightly so. Edwards' nod as Kerry's VP was leaked and deflated the announcement. "Who is Obama's VP?" is a loaded question: who will our next VP be, the media asks, who will stand by President Obama, be the shoulder to lean on, the adviser, attack dog, etc?
You see, Obama is slated to win by most calculations, so it's very important to know who'll be filling the position Dick Cheney made far more powerful over the last eight years. Few VPs really rise above the perception of being the President's right-hand lackey, and none other in the post-war era have been as dynamic, controversial and influential as Cheney. Can the next VP measure up to his stellar (regardless of politics, the man is smart, and his execution of the position of Vice-President well-crafted) example of what the office can do?
McCain has stated he'll announce his VP on Aug. 29. I'll bring you more on his choices after we know Obama's. McCain has to match the energy Obama's announcement will make. Who to choose? The strong rumor is Romney right now. Inside sources say McCain selected him, but hasn't offered.
So Georgia (again, breakaway Soviet Republic). Still bitter over there, Russia hasn't left, is most likely violating the cease fire, has Georgian prisoners. Now they are threatening retaliation "beyond diplomacy" for the missile shield defense system the US is partly building in Poland. Not the point. Joe Biden wants to give Georgians one...billion dollars(!!) for reconstruction...and Obama agrees.
Talk amongst yourselves whether this is a good idea in "tough" economic times. Hm.
Poll aplenty! Look who's ahead....
John McCain, according to recent polls, has shrunk Obama's lead to a statistical tie. Historically, Bush did this to Kerry four years ago at the same time (Swift Boat ads) and Kerry never regained the momentum. Obamamentum is a different beast, however, and after a good VP announcement and convention, he'll add 4-7 points, bringing him to a comfortable lead. I bet he crosses 50% after his acceptance speech.
Here are some numbers, compiled by the good people at RealClearPolitics.com.
Obama has led McCain by as many as 12 points since February - and he's hit that benchmark several times! But somehow, the mix of experience, savvy ads, direct message and mounting success in Iraq have slashed in half and half and half again Obama's lead. Going into the convention, I can't imagine anyone thought Obama would be ahead only by an avg. of 1.4 points.
What does this mean? McCain is not Bob Dole. That affable old codger ran against Bill Clinton in 1996 and his age overshadowed everything else in the campaign (that and the goofball VP candidate, Jack Kemp). He was also seen as just another old white man with boring old conservative politics. I'd wager none of this applies to McCain, as it stands.
With his military experience, "maverick" tendencies within the Republican party (he crossed the aisle...at least twice!) and "straight talk" personality, coupled with a pointed ad campaign that targets the the lingering doubts people have about Obama (raise taxes? no foreign policy exposure...ever? universal health care paid for HOW?!), the AZ Senator presents a renewed candidacy with numbers not seen for months.
The "old white man" tag that Dole struggled and failed under isn't as applicable to McCain who, despite some rotary cuff issues, is spry for a septuagenarian and healthy as an ox. There's no really getting around the white part, unless he takes a page from Robert Downey, Jr.'s book (GO SEE TROPIC THUNDER! It's amazing!), but he can position himself as not defined by his caucasian-ness. Were he to appear with lots of brown people, that would help more.
He knows Bobby Jindal....
Next time on...The Political Hoedown:
Item! Red State/Blue State/...White State?
Item! Rick Warren vets faith, morality, sound bites.
Item! So [NAME] is Obama's VP! WOW! I'd never have guessed it. What does this mean, oh political seer?
Item! Conventions are upon us. Will Hillary's stormtrooperettes bring the hurt down on Obama? Or does "party unity" mean more than smiling while planning the other's destruction?
That's all, popsicles. Stay cool.