SixFifty

lessons from America

re-awakening to a different america

I’m in that lull time between my friend Jodi leaving to head back to her Cincinnati home and registration for Netroots Nation (and my hotel check-in) opening later this afternoon.

I’ve been here in Pittsburgh for 4 days. Re-acclimatising myself to the American way: to US portion sizes and distances; to the accents and the attitudes; to the increasingly rowdy debates on healthcare; to the So-Co and Lime that tastes so much better this side of the Atlantic.

I certainly find it easier striking up conversation with people here – whether on the plane, in the street or by the bar. Sure there’s normally an enthusiastic response to my accent. But there’s often something more: a seemingly genuine interest in what I’m doing or in an exchange about politics, culture or places.

From Demo(thesnes), the Greek-American restaurant owner with an impressive foreign affairs knowledge who invited us for a drink and we ended up chatting all evening; to the guys from AmericasPower grassroots organising to promote a better image for the coal industry but willing to engage in an open and intelligent discussion on energy; to the owniter and barista at the BigDog coffee shop I’m currently sitting in talking enthusiastically about the DirectTrade coffee they serve.

However, watching the cable news channels yesterday, with their reports on the heated healthcare townhalls by Obama, Senators Maskill and Specter and other Democratic politicans, the debate seems anything but civil. Protestors, hecklers, argument and intractable differences were portrayed as the norm. This looks like one hard sell for the Obama administration; especially now the tags of “Socialism” and “Obamajinedad” (yes, really) are being hurled at increasing frequency. Jodi said she had never seen such an ugly mood about a domestic policy before.

There is no doubt the scare tactics by those opposing healthcare change are having an effect. Last year I’d seen “hope” and optimism as the predominant emotion. Now it seems fear and unwillingness to let go of the failing status quo are rising to pre-eminence. I think I’d forgotten how much fear – of the other, of lawsuits, of government possibly being a force for good – is part of the American psyche too. I’m hoping a couple of days with the Netroots and especially the Howard Dean healthcare townhall here at NN will be good antidotes and allow me to get a more rounded perspective on the issue.

Nevertheless, my observation of the week so far: that America as a nation and Americans themselves are both far more optimistic and far more fearful than us Brits.

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August 12, 2009 Posted by | global perspective, Netroots Nation | 1 Comment

Cambridge Uni hosts first public screening of ‘Dollar and a Dream’ doc and campaign memorabilia exhibition

Back in mid June, Meghan’s documentary following my US election experiences had its first public viewing. ‘A Dollar and a Dream’ was screened as part of the America Week (sponsored by the US Embassy) at Clare Hall, Cambridge University.

I only saw the film for the first time that morning … and it (and scarily I) looked different projected onto the big screen that evening. Over 50 people came for the screening. Meghan kicked off proceedings with an intro about the film and then everyone sat back to watch twenty minutes of footage which wonderfully captures the mood of America the week before the election.

The film is much less about politics and the election, and much more about the interaction between me and Americans, and a glimpse of what life was like campaigning in the American suburbs.

My role may initially have been as chief protaganist, but thankfully I am certainly not the star of the show: it is the people I meet along the way who are (as well as Meghan, who did so much running with heavy camera equipment to try to keep up with me and also skilfully pulls together all the disparate footage to weave a coherent and meaningful narrative as all good story-tellers do).

The reaction from the audience was generally very positive and also included some good feedback which will help make the final version even better. After people had had a chance to question Meghan, I was brought to the front to sit on a panel of eminent academics and commentators to discuss ‘Obama: 5 months on’. Fascinating contributions from the other panellists, especially a guy who had been a senior McCain foreign policy advisor.

Thanks to sponsorship, there was a drinks reception afterwards. American wines of course! But also a chance for people to look around the college’s new temporary exhibition: a display of Obama and US election memorabilia collected by yours truly. The organiser did a superb job of displaying a selection of my buttons, trinkets, flags, posters, newspapers and more collected from my various trips to the States.

August 12, 2009 Posted by | global perspective, On the Campaign Trail | Leave a comment

My DC political pilgrimage

It was has become something of a post-election tradition of mine, I spend a day walking along the Washington Mall: visiting monuments to past presidents and the current seats of political power; reflecting on the election results and what it means. 

     

This year was no exception.  Like last time, glorious sunshine accompanied my stroll through DC’s famous sites.  But unlike 2004, the political climate was substantially changed for the better.  Then I was coming to terms with the depressing reality of not just 4 more years of Bush, but extended Republican control of both Houses of Congress, and a Supreme Court that was likely to become more more conservative.  I was looking for glimmers of hope where ever I could.   This time, hope seemed to be radiating brightly: from the steps of the Lincoln Monument, all the way along the Mall, and even to the railings of the White House. 

And not just hope, but progressive activism too.

Overlooking the Reflecting Pool, on those famous steps, Avaaz had set up their boards for people to write their “yes we can” messages of goodwill to Obama and reminders of the global change that hopefully his victory will herald. 

Less than 3 days before, and apparently spontaneously (and without precedent), a crowd of over a thousand DC residents had gathered by the famous White House railings to celebrate Obama’s victory.  Now outside the White House, students were marching up and down the street calling for American foreign policy to be more proactive in halting genocide in Darfur.   And at the far end of the grassy Mall, by Capitol Hill, a ‘tent city’ had sprung up.  Again the issue was Darfur – which has far greater prominence than here in the UK; where the Aegis Trust and its student groups are some of the few who are very active on it.  These tents had been bought and decorated by groups across the US and were to be sent on to provide shelter for families in the Darfur refugee camps that have sprung up for those forced out of their homes and villages.

   

My pilgrimage was a restorative one.  It was also a chance to marvel at the historic achievement of Barack Obama and everyone who had supported him.  Everywhere I went, to slightly misquote Tony Blair, “the hand of history was on my shoulder”.  Here were the memorials to the great Presidents and one day Obama might join these figures. There were two really emotional moments for me.  The first was sitting on the Lincoln Memorial steps, close to the spot where Martin Luther King gave his ‘I have a dream’ speech.  The second was at the railings of the White House, thinking that shortly an intelligent guy, an inspirational speaker, a pluralist – and yes – a black man whose father was African, was about to become President and occupy this building, a seat of global power.  “Yes we can”. “Yes we did”. Indeed.

However, there was one thing that did trouble me on my trek through DC.  And it was the same in 04 too.  The Lincoln Memorial.  The secular, pluralist nature of my political pilgrimage clashes against the religious and authoritarian symbolism of the building.  The Memorial is treated as a  ‘holy of holies’, a venerated shrine, a temple.   You ascend these vast steps to pay homage to a towering figure seated on a throne.  Lincoln as god’s presence here on earth, it almost seemed to be saying.  The ultimate in (non)separation of church and state.  Try unpicking that one!  But the aspect that made me feel most uncomfortable is the hallowed, reverential atmosphere inside; the closed, dark interior; the relative lack of space (physical and metaphorical) or light for questioning, for different views. 

  
If the Lincoln Memorial seems to represent one major strand of America, then the Jefferson Memorial represents another.  A more democratic building in every sense: rounded; open on many sides; light streaming in; different paths, entrances and perspectives for people to take.  The building, and the words of Jefferson inside, convey and inspire the tolerance and pluralism of the nation. 

  

Fittingly, as the sunset over the unmistakeable DC skyline, my journey came to an end.

NB. A slideshow of all these photos and more can be viewed here

November 18, 2008 Posted by | global perspective, On the Campaign Trail | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Election Reflections 2004 – a view from my past

In the course of reflecting upon my post-08 election experiences, I came across an old article of mine.  I had written it back in November 2004, after my short trip (holiday rather than campaigning) to the US over the election period.  The article in full is below.  Some of the memories may be painful, but that defeat was for so many people – including me – a catalyst and a continued motivator for the political activism that has brought us to where we are now.  I’ll leave others to judge whether my words were at all prescient and prophetic, or just naive.  Irrespective, this piece shows some of the roots of my journey and thinking (and passion for covering the presidential election) that has come to fruition this year.  

‘Cause we made a promise we swore we’d always remember

No retreat, baby, no surrender
Blood brothers on a stormy night
With a vow to defend
No retreat, baby, no surrender        
(lyrics: Bruce Springsteen)

 

Listening again to a webcast of ‘The Boss’ singing the anthem to John Kerry’s campaign and then introducing the candidate to the 80,000 strong crowd in Madison, Wisconsin, takes me back to that place: five days to the election; “hope is on the way”; and I am standing somewhere towards the back of the rally fervently waving my Kerry-Edwards placard and trying desperately to believe. To believe in the candidate; to believe in the American people; to believe in a Kerry victory. After what happened last time, there could surely be “no retreat, no surrender”…. .

Until the first polls closed, the majority of people inside the packed bars on Capitol Hill were nervously optimistic. But, after a couple of hours of disappointing results, I began to see the flip-side to my decision to spend election night in a city that voted 90% Democrat. The only big cheer came when Barak Obama’s victory for the Illinois Senate seat was announced. There was genuine passion and support for Obama; possibly more so than for Kerry himself. When Bush was declared the winner in Florida, people started drifting out of the bar and those that remained became increasingly sombre. At a party organised by the Center for Voting and Democracy, the mood by this stage was decidedly flat – to such an extent that it was almost soporific. It was as though there had been a collective draining of energy at the realisation of the result. I wasn’t ready for defeat yet and went to a diner to continue watching the coverage. People were still looking at big TV screens, but much less intently now. For this numbness – an overwhelming sense of shock and disbelief as much as anything – had set in. One exception was a distraught college student, sobbing uncontrollably as her boyfriend tried to comfort her. She had been a Kerry activist, campaigning (to no avail) in Virginia for much of the past year. The rawness of the emotion was a reminder not just about the hard-fought nature and closeness of the campaign, but also about what seemed to be at stake.

My own personal quest to make sense of it all revolved around a pilgrimage through downtown Washington DC that I undertook over the following three days. First up was the Lincoln Memorial, bustling with visitors and school groups; all keen to have their photo taken next to the imposing figure of Lincoln, or on those famous steps. The Gettysburg Address is carved into the wall and the language and symbolism of both words and building is unmistakable: patriotism; strength; freedom through war; and invocations of God. This sacred place is seen by many Americans as the spiritual centre of their nation.

Next stop was the Jefferson Memorial. It may have only been a short and picturesque stroll around the Washington Basin, but it seemed much further away in terms of its current place in the identity and hearts of the population. There was virtually no one there, bar a few small groups of Japanese tourists. The location – overlooking the water and surrounded by trees – engendered a sense of tranquillity and suggested the prioritisation of thought and reflection over action. It was a conscious manifestation of Jefferson’s Enlightenment philosophy. Inside the Memorial, inscriptions and displays emphasised Jefferson’s belief in the quest for knowledge and “light” (reason); science and its advancement; and freedom through education and peace – all couched in more inclusive religious language. This Memorial, together with the Roosevelt one just along the bank, seemed to speak to a very different America than that which had voted Republican the previous day.

So there they were: the competing visions and legacies of Jefferson and Lincoln – the struggle for a nation’s identity. As a glance at a map of the electoral college results shows, there is a clear geographic dividing line between these two Americas. This split has much to do with the direction that people want their country to go in. One direction points towards the coasts and a more secular, socially liberal society and (post-)modern lifestyle. The other direction points towards the Bible Belt and a more faith-based, socially conservative society. Many Americans straddle the two. But this does not negate the central premise: McWorld or ‘the Word’ – where is the US heading? With Bush’s re-election the latter, at least in the domestic sphere, seems to be in the ascendancy.

However, my visit to the Smithsonian’s American History Museum – to view the original flag that inspired the composition of the national anthem – indicates that the country’s schism may not yet be critical. For patriotism (or what may be better described as nationalism, with all the negative traits that that term evokes) is still very strong in the US. It almost always has been, but now post-September 11th it is even more of a dominant and unifying force. The museum’s most prominently displayed exhibit was the huge flag that was erected on top of the still-smouldering Pentagon the day after it was attacked.

A few hundred metres away, one of the most recent additions to DC’s ‘museum-mile’ is located: the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Perhaps it is no surprise that the US and Israel have become even closer allies recently. For 9/11 has become, in purely psychological terms, akin to America’s Holocaust – an emotional scar; a potent part of the nation’s identity; and a key dynamic in its present and future paths. Yet, just as in Israel, the political climate that this has created has left many questions unanswered, or even not able to be asked, and has stunted discourse on foreign policy and patriotism. A ‘never again’ mentality has been adopted which seems to legitimise a more insular and zero-sum approach to politics, where the aims are above all to protect the interests of the State and the American people, often to the detriment of anyone else. Despite the efforts of the anti-war movement, it was only really with the emergence of Howard Dean and then John Kerry belatedly, that an alternate policy – one promoting a more multilateral worldview and consensual approach – reached the mainstream.

The final section of my pilgrimage took me to the outside (the gates, fences and other security-paraphernalia) of the three most politically hallowed sites: the Supreme Court, the Capitol Building and the White House. I had been to the latter on the eve of the election, but the “bye, bye, Bush” chants that I had heard then took on an added poignancy in my mind when I returned several days later. The election result may have shown a country divided 51:49, but all three branches of the government seem likely they will be under the increased control – or at least influence – of a highly partisan and ideological group of people.

I am particularly interested in the challenge of how to move US politics and public opinion back to the centre-ground and to a more socially liberal position. One possible game plan – inspired by Jefferson – is that Democrats / secular members of US society need to articulate their messages and politics in faith-based language, in order to be listened to and influence the mainstream (more religious) citizens. You have to be pragmatic, and somehow embrace the other, if you are to have any lasting impact on the country’s course. That is the challenge ahead.

Equally, I believe that the discourse from the campaign trail – the vociferous opposition to the US administration’s pro-corporate stance; elements of its domestic agenda; its aggressive conduct of foreign policy and its disregard for human rights and the environment – needs to continue. A number of the Americans I met on my trip were vowing to do so; and more will hopefully once they recover from the pain of defeat. That is my desire too. I may not have been confident of a Kerry victory, but I still did not spend much time envisaging a second Bush term; something I must now reluctantly accept. We must wait until 2008, if not longer, for a change of course. In the meantime, it is in our interests to help nurture effective alternatives to Republican policies and politicians; and also to support grass-roots movements in their work educating and empowering Americans. By doing so, and by remembering the importance of voting, we shall not have surrendered – no matter what happens during the next four years.

November 17, 2008 Posted by | global perspective, lessons from America | , , , , | 1 Comment

A global message to Americans

One of the organisations that has best utilised the Dean (and now Obama) campaigning lessons on using the internet and mobilising activists has been Avaaz.org.  As their website states, they are “a new global web movement with a simple democratic mission: to close the gap between the world we have, and the world most people everywhere want. ”

They have produced a short video clip which explains the importance of the election to the rest of the world, and why people around the globe like America and want it to play a positive role in world affairs / issues.

When I initially received an email about the video and the accompanying petition, I was sceptical about how this ad might be perceived in the US.  Another ‘Guardian letter-writing in Cook County, Ohio’ episode was my first thought.  But I am more reassured having read the email fully and seen this explanation Avaaz offers:

US Avaaz members have asked for this help. The ad doesn’t tell people who to vote for, but its overriding message of tolerance, diplomacy, human rights and equality is unmistakable. If the ad hits the media airwaves, it will reach the nation’s undecided voters just as they are starting to tune in, and are determining which issues will underpin their vote.

I am yet to be convinced that their idea – of making it a global youtube hit that the US media will report on and a million or more American voters will watch – will actually work.  I hope it does, and I’ve signed the petition too.  But the video does make the case more eloquently and visually appealing than I could ever do about non-Americans’ motivations for taking an interest in these elections and the hope for a better relationship with the US ahead.

October 29, 2008 Posted by | global perspective, the world wants obama | , | Leave a comment

My Obama journey

A year ago – October 2007 – I was in Zambia for a British Council-run leadership course involving 200 people from across Africa. Barack Obama was a hot topic of conversation even then.  I wanted to take the opportunity a year on to email my African friends and let them know my experiences of supporting Obama and where that journey has taken me.  So on the plane over from London to Denver, I composed my thoughts.  Below is an edited version of that letter.  It is not the full answer to the “what drives you?”, “why are you so interested in this election?”, “why do you support Obama?” questions I am often asked, on both sides of the pond.  But hopefully it goes some way to explaining some of my passion and motivations.

Dear Interaction friends,

I want to share an exciting story with you: one which you have helped shape, which involves me being there in the stadium that historic night in August when Barack Obama accepted the nomination, and one which hopefully should culminate on 4th November, with the election of Obama. Inshallah.

Remember back to the ‘African Wall of Greatness’ exercise. One of the 3 bricks I created displayed the cover to Barack Obama’s book ’The Audacity of Hope’. As I explained at the time, I chose it for two reasons: (i) the way that phrase and what it means – the optimism and drive often despite the adversities – to me encapsulates the African spirit; and (ii) Obama himself – his values and politics, and also the positive symbol of achievement that he represents, for America(ns), and for Africa(ns). I recall some positive and quite emotional responses. Given that this was before a vote had even been cast in the primary elections, your knowledge and appreciation of Obama and hope for his victory was impressive; and it brought home to me what his candidacy obviously meant, and the power of that.

And I have taken those sentiments with me, on my Obama journey ever since. I have closely followed every little twist and turn of the election campaign; staying up late at night to watch live on screen the events unfolding, and tracking the conversations and first-hand experiences of activists via websites and blogs. Obama’s speeches, especially the ones during the Primary campaign, were moving and inspirational. It wasn’t just how he delivered them but the actual words; reflecting so much of the values and spirit of ubuntu, community, collective action and leadership that were integral to the Interaction programme.

The other aspect I have so enjoyed and been inspired by has been following, learning about, witnessing in action and finally taking part in the grassroots movement and new technologies that are driving progressive politics and the success of Obama’s campaign. It is humbling to see people get so involved, to see the process of – in Obama’s words – “brick by brick, block by block, calloused hand by calloused hand, we can change the world”. And it also fires me up: both to want to take part, and also to try and apply those lessons to my job and to political activity in the UK in general. To give you but one example from Obama’s campaign: the ‘50 state strategy’. Put simply it is about a commitment to campaigning and organising in every part of America, rather than targeting just a few states that traditionally decide elections. It is about saying to millions ‘your voice, your vote matters’; and that community organising and investment in people is worth it. That means a lot to me.

The more I have been following the Obama campaign, the more I have been fired up by it; wanted to follow it more; be part of it; learn from it; share my passion and learning with others; and be further enthused by people’s response. It’s been a reinforcing cycle that’s meant I have enthusiastically devoted ever increasing amounts of my time and energy to it.

The upshot is that this year I have been living my passion and my dream. Some highlights of that journey:

1) Hosting a ‘Super Tuesday’ party (the biggest election night during the period when the presidential candidates are chosen) . The date happened to fall during Module 3 [of the Interaction course], and so I organised a party in my hotel room and invited all the UK Interaction participants and trainers along. My enthusiasm for Obama was obviously infectious, as 12 of us squeezed into my room from midnight to watch the results and to learn, discuss, eat and drink. It was a case in point of “if you build it, they will come”.

2) Experiencing the atmosphere of the Democratic Convention in Denver.  Being part of the ‘Big Tent’ – seeing and learning from the activists and the netroots (bloggers) in action. https://sixfifty.wordpress.com/category/denver-diary/

3) Invesco stadium: Barack Obama’s nomination acceptance speech. As I wrote at the time: “I was there to witness history being made. I was there to celebrate Obama’s nomination with 80,000 Democrats (and a lot of media). I was there to stand up for change.”

And now …

4) US Elections trip – experiencing and participating in the final ten days of the campaign; hopefully ending up in Chicago – Obama’s hometown – for election night itself.  Canvassing (going door-to-door)  and volunteering at campaign events en route.

October 26, 2008 Posted by | global perspective, the world wants obama | , , , | Leave a comment

Florida calling

“If you knew that visiting your grandparents could change the world, you’d do it”

So opens Sarah Silverman’s brilliant video promoting ‘The Great Schelp” – a massive co-ordinated effort this past weekend for young Jews to visit their grandparents or other elderly Jewish relatives in Florida and try and persuade them to vote Obama.  And for those who can’t afford the airfare, a phone call instead. For the targets are supposively non-internet savvy.  Not all of them though, as my 92 year old relative in Florida checks her emails daily, in-between sessions on the tennis court, the golf course and the pool. 

As figures quoted on the BBC suggest, the Great Schlep has been huge:

“1.5 million people have downloaded the file. And more than 2.5 million people have viewed comedian Sarah Silverman’s welcome video. The group has more than 18,000 friends on the social networking site Facebook.”

The scale. The audacity. The humour for a serious purpose.  The successful tapping into a cultural network.  The mobilisation for an electoral cause.  The cheap cost of setting it all up. And the use of web-organising for an offline activity, especially one that is about individual face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact.  I am so impressed … and jealous.  This is political activity at its best: making activism very accessible, and  also trying to persuade voters one-by-one based on the personal recommendation of someone close to them. 

Outside of the trade unions, we don’t here really have any non-party actors making the case for voting for a particular candidate/party, and mobilising people to do so.   Our political parties are tainted as brands, either distrusted or simply not seen as relevant or appealing to most people.  So how do you go about making a more credible pitch?  You don’t do it with party branding and official sanction.  Instead, as done here with The Great Schelp, supporters create their own groups and brands – made easier by the power of new technology – and away into their communities they go.  We do have “Scientists for Labour”, “Society of Labour Lawyers”, “The Jewish Labour Movement” and others that my Labour Party diary lists. But the difference is two-fold: (i) they all have the party name in their title and (ii) they are all officially affiliated to the Party, have voting / representation rights etc.   A supporter group like “Africans for Labour” at least is getting closer, but not being an affiliated organisation.

Incidentally, the Republicans had a counter-effort, led by that infamous Democrat, Independent, turncoat and wannabe McCain’s no:2 Joe Lieberman.   He represents the old school in every way: from the way he operates and thinks about politics, to his hawkishness on foreign policy.  The trends are very much going away from him: both in his own state of Conneticut, in Florida and amongst the Jewish population as a whole.  As quoted in that same BBC article:

“Nationwide, Jewish people are twice as likely to vote for Mr Obama than Mr McCain, according to a national survey carried out by J Street, a pro-Israel pro-Middle-East-peace organisation, in July.”

And that mirrors views in Israel itself. “Israelis for Obama” perhaps surprisingly seems to be more than norm than Israelis for McCain.  Though it should be noted, having spoken with my mum who has recently returned from 3 weeks in Jerusalem, that the US elections are not the highest political concern in that country.  They have their own scandals, elections and new leader to worry about.

October 13, 2008 Posted by | global perspective, lessons from America | , , , , | 2 Comments

6 weeks is a very long time in politics

6 weeks ago the Obama convention bounce – and the Democratic activist high from those scenes at Invesco stadium – were thought to be at their peak.  And Obama had a bare lead in the electoral college vote, according to the polls. 

6 weeks ago Sarah Palin had just been unveiled to the world as McCain’s running mate …. and the media thought it a masterstroke.

6 weeks ago the Dow was as high as 11500 and the FTSE 100 stood at 5600.  And a mattress was what what you slept on, rather than a safer place than banks to store your money.

And 6 weeks ago I left Denver, after an amazing experience at the Convention, in the city and with my hosts Hunter and Tyler.  

Tyler and Malcolm Hunter, Malcolm and Tyler

…. my tan has definitely now gone, despite the Indian Summer we’ve experienced here. Since departing Denver on such a high, I’ve been to 5 political conferences: the Greens, Trade Union Congress, Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservatives.  I’ve watched my godson take his first steps, first aided and now on his own.  I’ve celebrated my birthday, and my twin brother’s!  And I’ve continued to talk, watch, read, blog and breathe the US elections. 

But lotts has changed in the past 6 weeks.  That’s a bland understatement of the highest order.  The financial, economic and political landscape in the US, the UK and to a lesser extent across the world has radically altered. 

Here in the UK, Gordon Brown is now seen (at least for the moment) as a leader fit for these times, rather than a pathetic character about to prematurely ousted from a job he seemed ill-suited for.  The Conservative lead in the polls has diminished from its historic highs.  The Conservative leader David Cameron is now having to not only back regulation and nationalisation, but he is calling for even tighter curb on boardroom pay and perks than the Labour Prime Minister.   We have revived our old enmity with Iceland, this time over banking rather than fish.  And many people – councils, charities and businesses included – have discovered to their cost that when something looks too good to be true (in this case high interest rates on their savings offered by Icelandic banks without any risk), it probably is.

In the States, “the tectonic plates have shifted” (as John Prescott’s catchphrase aptly puts) to an even bigger degree.   Perhaps the best way of visualising what has happened, is through this fantastic graph, posted by State of the Union (h/t electoral-vote.com).  Look at the way McCain’s fall in popularity almost exactly mirrors the collapse in confidence on Wall Street.

And if yesterday – ‘Black Friday’ – wasn’t bad enough for McCain, we had the ‘Troopergate’ verdict giving further credence to Sarah Palin’s lack of suitability for the V-P job, and criticisms of McCain’s decision-making.  I’m not sure though, in electoral terms, it does anything more than confirm and harden the ‘love her or loathe her’ responses to her.  It’s a lot of passion on both sides she’s managed to stir up these past 6 weeks.
 
Unbelievably, from the close race 6 weeks ago we are now looking, certainly if the election was held today, at an electoral college landslide for Obama, a possibility of the Democrats getting near to that filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate, and a large House majority.  Only the most optimistic would have predicted this situation.   But now we are here, we don’t want to let it slip back.  I absolutely love this rousing, tour de force of a post by Markos which sets out the motivation for the final 4 weeks of the campaign:

“The day after the election, I want to see an electoral battlefield littered with defeated Republicans, their ranks demoralized, their treasury in heavy debt, and no real leadership to take the helm. I want a vacuum so complete, that a bloody leadership battle between the neocons, theocons, and corporate cons shakes the GOP to its core, and leaves it fractured and ill-equipped to stymie the progressive agenda, much less ramp up for an even bleaker (for them) 2010.”

“Guys, that’s why I don’t worry about complacency. We’re not out to win this thing. We’re out to crush them. And that’s going to require a level of engagement beyond anything you’ve ever done before. It’ll mean more phone banking, more canvassing, more donating. … We’ve all got something to offer, whether it’s time or money, and now’s the time to offer what we can.”

Given I can’t offer money (foreign donations are illegal), I am going to be offering my time.  My time in the States.  Campaigning for Obama.  More shortly ….

October 11, 2008 Posted by | global perspective | , , , , , | 1 Comment

No Palin, No fireworks?

After the excitement of last week’s v-p debate,  tonight’s debate may be a quieter affair.  And I’m not talking about what happens in Nashville, Tennessee.  I’m talking about what happens in towns, cities, houses and bars across the US.  The debate parties tonight may take on a calmer tone … and not just because the Dow fell another 5% earlier.  Its all down to Sarah Palin and and the passions on both sides that she stirs.

A Californian friend, blogger and Obama volunteer co-ordinator, drew my attention to what happened at these debate parties last time.  She reported that people were literally yelling at the TV whenever Sarah Palin spoke.  Indeed, there’s a piece from her local Pasedena paper http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/ci_10625072 – look at the photo gallery. Most people had their head in their hands when Sarah came on screen. 

The conversation I had with her confirms what I’ve been hearing from others as well, that Palin not only infuriates a certain part of the Democratic base, she does so for some Republicans too, particularly women, who really are offended by her whole cutesy act.  I realised that Palin gave Democrats a real fundraising and activist boost straight after her selection, but reports from Obama campaign offices and high anti-Palin merchandise sales suggest that this is still continuing in a big way. 

Palin does provoke huge negative reaction in the UK – even amongst Conservatives who support McCain. But
I have been surprised at the level of visceral hatred of her by quite a lot of women. I’m not sure that was factored in to McCain’s calculations when he picked her.  

Amusingly, I received comments saying how people thought I was being very fair and even to Palin in my liveblogging of the debate.  Perhaps it was just that I was not yet completely out of my diplomatic, holding-my-tongue, non-partisan mode from my few days with the Conservative party earlier that week.

October 8, 2008 Posted by | debates, global perspective, Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

Brown’s Palin moment

BBC One’s 1 o’clock news nicked my phrase.   I had been using it a few hours earlier in a phone call to a friend to describe Gordon Brown’s decision to bring Peter Mandelson back into the Cabinet.  Then suddenly it’s on TV.  To be fair, for us political junkies it was a fairly obvious observation: that this was Brown’s ‘Palin moment’, where he tries to pull off the same kind of stunt that McCain did when he surprised everyone and picked Sarah Palin as his running mate.  The idea is simple: to gain days of favourable press coverage which simply focuses on what a surprise the decision was, and which reinforces conventional wisdom about being a courageous, decisive, (and in McCain’s case maverick) leader.  Then you get several more days of positive coverage examining the actual pick itself and why it was such a good idea. 

And so far its working to some degree.  Witness first of all Nick Robinson’s “gobsmacked” reaction and Martha Keaney’s astonishment; the leads on Friday evening’s news programmes; then today’s editorial in The Guardian and the main comment piece in The Independent amongst other exhibits.   The Mirror and The Sun both use the words “shock return” in their headlines.  But the UK media works differently than their US counterparts, and are certainly less deferential and (some of the time) less easily fed a line. The Times today sounds a more sceptical note, and The Telegraph is hostile.

Whichever way the news cycle ends up playing it, the strategy from both McCain and Brown has its risks as well as its rewards.  There is one interesting difference though in the thinking behind the choices: Palin energises the Republican base and tends to turn off independents / undecideds; Mandelson could well do the reverse and strengthen Labour’s appeal to the centre whilst upsetting rank-and-file members.

October 4, 2008 Posted by | global perspective, lessons from America | , , , , | Leave a comment