SixFifty

lessons from America

The man behind the news

Hunter and Tyler are cool guys and great hosts.  When I was in Denver in August, I was invited to have dinner with Tyler’s parents.  This time it was Hunter who suggested we have dinner with his folks.  I had briefly met them in a bar the previous night, but the loud music prevented real conversation.  So I was excited to get the opportunity to chat properly to them.  Doubly excited because Hunter’s dad is Ernie Bjorkman, a very well known and highly respected local TV news anchor in Denver.

The hospitality and the conversation were both fantastic last Sunday, and I learnt a lot.  Amongst the many things we talked about, two points that Ernie mentioned that really stood were:

1) This parallels between Jimmy Carter’s candidacy in 1976 and Obama’s now: the outsider status; the running outside / against Washington to the same extent; the optimism of the message; the calmness from the candidate; and the heights of passion and energy of the activists.  Certainly, ordinary people hadn’t been as fired up since the 1976 campaign.

2) The difficulty in keeping journalists reporting the presidential race in as completely balanced and fair way as possible.  This wasn’t necessarily because of any inherent bias or sloppy reporting. Instead – as Ernie described it in his news room – the younger journalists especially were more likely to get swept up in the rhetoric and huge crowds of the Obama campaign and so lose their objectivity.  He was the one who had to sometimes rein them back in and ensure the balanced reporting that was expected of the news team.

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October 31, 2008 Posted by | On the Campaign Trail | , , , | Leave a comment

An early vote for Obama

When I was in Denver, I fulfilled a long-held ambition …..

Sadly – and to clarify – no, I did not vote.  This isn’t my ballot paper and nor did I get to fill it in (despite asking very nicely).  This Denver ballor paper belongs to Hunter, who showed it to me over the weekend; before he completed it and early voted in a polling station near his work. 

My ambition though had been to see an actual ballot paper close-up and just get a sense of it.  You can read the instructions as to how to fill it out, and also the beginning of the list of presidential candidates in the state of Colorado, by clicking on each of the photos below.

  

The ballot paper starts with the presidential race, then the Senate, then the local Congressional one.  And then the countless local council races and locally elected positions, like judge.  And that’s just on the first ballot paper ….

As modelled by Hunter below, there are in fact two large ballot papers for the voter to fill in.  

The second ballot paper is for the ballot initiatives – the referendum on specific measures amending the local/state constitution or mandating the local authority in charge to do something or spend money in a certain way. 

Despite the fact that I am about to stump for one of these ballot initiatives, I have my scepticisms.  Especially in a presidential race as hard fought and epoch-making as this one, local issues rarely get any kind of prominence or generate wide debate.  Voters often will not know much about what the candidates stand for; or even who they are.  And these initiatives often (and the Cincinnati one is a happy exception) end up being exceedingly negative; with the campaigns trading negative adverts and mud being flown everywhichway.  It doens’t have to be like this.  But as things stand I’m not sure what good it might do to export this ballot paper featue – and the strand of greater direct democracy it entails – to the UK.

October 31, 2008 Posted by | counting votes, On the Campaign Trail | , , , , | 3 Comments

Gunning for the same side

Here in Cincinnati, the first political ad that came on the TV was an anti-Obama one about gun ownership / control.  It was paid for by the National Rifle Association – the organisation headed until recently by Charlton “you can wrench this gun from me over my cold, dead body” Heston.  It shows the fascinating prioritisation of issues in Ohio rather than the more liberal big cities of Denver and Minneapolis I’ve been to. 

However, there is a danger – as Obama found out to his cost with a remark in the primaries of “guns and bibles” that was spun and taken out of context – that you can unfairly stereotype based on views of gun ownership.

The first house I went to after arriving in Denver was of Stephen, a friend of Tyler’s, who comes from Maine and recently moved out west.  Stephen is a proud gun owner.  So proud he showed the guns off to me over dinner.   He has a rifle and a small gun (don’t ask me what type).

I felt quite uncomfortable with the closeness of these weapons and the way they were being so nonchalently handled.  I thankfully avoided having to do my own pose with them.  It just isn’t part of my culture.  But I do have to admit there at the same time I was a tiny bit fascinated by the guns. 

For Stephen, it is all very different.  He grew up in Maine hunting and using guns. And he sees having a gun in his home as a necessary element of personal protection, without having to rely on the cops who might not get there in time (his rationale). 

However, both of us are Obama supporters and on the progressive side of politics.  We share other values and political beliefs too.  Just not the gun thing.  An instructive lesson for me, and one that will no doubt be useful in my interactions with people in Ohio.

October 31, 2008 Posted by | lessons from America | , , | 1 Comment

Oh me, Oh my, Ohio

It’s Thursday evening so I must be in …. Ohio.  Just flown into Cincinnati airport.  For the pedants amongst you, the airport is actually just across the river, in Kentucky, so actually I haven’t yet set foot in the state of Ohio.  But I will very shortly. I am making use of the free wifi – that’s a first in a US airport, certainly that I’ve experienced.  And Meghan has just arrived, video camera in hand.  And so it starts: that added dimension to my trip of fliming, as well as a welcome and fun travelling companion and fellow political animal. 

Incidentally, I don’t know whether its my Obama buttons, my British passport, something on my immigration file (my days as a G8 summit protestor are behind me, honest guv) or the fact I booked my flight in the UK, but each of the two Northwestern flights I’ve flown have included a little excursion beforehand at the security point to have my bags and myself additionally checked.  They’ve been swabbing all my electrical equipment and testing it (for chemical residues of explosives perhaps).  They’ve also given me some lovely pat downs.  Thankfully no strip searches yet.  And I can’t really complain: it’s only a minor inconvenience.  And I’ve had friends much worse treated when flying into Israel.  

While I recover from my flight and Meghan from her long drive from Pennsylvania here, a ‘ballot measure 8’ meet up is happening on the other side of Cincinnati.  A chance I believe for students and first time voters to find out more about the electoral reform ballot initiative here in the city.  My colleague Lewis has just flown in from London and is fighting back jetlag to be there, so I should get a report of that later.  It’s all going on actually tonight, as Swing Semester Cincinnati (the same cooll outfit that I spent time with in Denver) are hosting a film night later.  They are going to be watching a special documentary on the Florida recount fiasco of 2000.  Very apposite to Ohio’s own ballot problems of 2004.  Hopefully they won’t encounter more of the same this time, but I guess it pays to be prepared.  Moreover, it is a great way to fire up activists, should they be flagging in these final days of the campaign. 

So expect more from both the ballot initiative and Swing Semester in the coming days, as I get stuck in to both.  Though tomorrow morning I have a more prosaic challenge: trying to find any kind of costume for Halloween and the ‘Trick or Vote’ fun in the evening.

October 31, 2008 Posted by | On the Campaign Trail | , , , , | Leave a comment