lessons from America

The jokers in the political pack

The economy must be worse in the States than I thought.  Even those involved in politics are having to get second jobs.  Of course we already knew that political comedian Al Franken was having to supplement his income with a run for the Senate in Minnesota.  But I didn’t realise that even the presidential candidates were having to moonlight as comedians.  But that’s exactly what they did yesterday in New York, at a special dinner.  The Al Smith dinner.  The links to the videos are below.  McCain was up first and was on good form: likeable, funny, at ease and very different from his debate performances.  Obama’s delivery was slightly more stilted and nervous and while he had some good lines, comedy is not going to become a profitable sideline for him.

(clip 1) McCain’s speech
(clip 2) end of McCain’s speech, first part of Obama’s
(clip 3) Obama’s speech

Would we ever get our prime ministerial candidates ‘bringing the funny’ and sending themselves and their campaigns up in the same way?  And knowing that it would be broadcast, as opposed to a completely private event?  I don’t see it happening.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that situation.  The Al Smith dinner is a one-off event on the campaign trial and a venerable but very specific tradition.  And then there is also the US tradition of candidates going on the evening talk shows and sending themselves up a little – this election cycle taken to new heights / extremes on Saturday Night Live.  A chat on the daytime sofa with Richard & Judy or Des O’Connor, or a spot with Jonathan Ross, just is not quite the same. 

The Victorian, or more accurately Bagehot, view of the “dignified” aspects of our constitution still prevails.  Just maybe though we need a little less dignity from our politicians and a bit more humility and humour.  Not often, but enough to show that they are human; and that while politics is a serious business it can also be accessible and fun and put in perspective, even at election time.  We all hear that Gordon Brown has a great sense of humour and energy in private.  And John Major’s friends always used to say the same about him.  So maybe an opportunity to show this side of their characters might be politically beneficial …. as well as a chance for people to laugh with, rather than at, them.  After all, Maggie Thatcher’s one-off ‘Yes Minister’ sketch is fondly remembered and part of political folklore.  And it also works – just as the SNL sketches and the Al Smith dinner speeches do – because it is rooted in the political context of that person/moment.  Just having Gordon and Dave do a Comic Relief-style silly scene wouldn’t have the same effect … and would be hideous to watch on many levels.


October 18, 2008 Posted by | lessons from America | , , , , | Leave a comment

Liveblogging 3rd presidential debate

[0545] So my chocolate supply has now run out, which must mean it’s time to end this show and get some sleep.  It’s been an enjoyable, educative, occasionally exhausting (the day after normally) and at other times energising experience watching the debates and doing this liveblogging lark.  Thanks for reading and commenting.  While the debates are over, there’s plenty more to come from me … especially from just over a week’s time when I head to the States and get to see and participate in what’s going on, rather than simply comment from afar.

[0544] My simple verdict is 3 out of 3 wins for Obama; 4 out of 4 for the ticket, including Biden’s performance on the v-p debate.  You can’t ask for any better than that.   

[0528] But the hatetalk wasn’t the worst McCain sunk too.  There was a question on abortion and related ethical issues.  BarbinMD (on Daily Kos) summarises McCain’s sentiment concisely: “Health of the mother? That’s extremist, liberal bullshit”.  But I leave it to Jane of Firedoglake to best express the raw emotional response to hearing McCain’s answer: 

“The most memorable moment of the debate — the one that should come back to haunt McCain — was when he sneeringly dismissed concerns for women’s “health” with regard to abortion.  Contempt for women just oozed out of every pore of his being, and it was no stretch to imagine the same man turning to his wife and saying “at least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you c**t.” “

[0524] Couple of things that I haven’t had a proper chance to mention as yet and that might be making waves in the day(s) to come, or not. And irrespective are important.   Firstly, was McCain failing to directly and unequivocally “repudiate” (that his word for what he wanted Obama to do on several other matters) the worst excesses of the racism and threats of violence made by Republican supporters at some rallies.  Instead, McCain was happy to “say, categorically, I’m proud of the people that come to our rallies.”   McCain should rightly take a lot of stick on that.  And it is why the perversion of the McCain campaign slogan is so apt: The Hate Talk Express.

[0501] The feed can sometimes be a bit overwhelming in the number of tweets coming through.  And obviously a lot are heavily partisan (but still fun and valid) comments.  One great thing is just the sheer breadth of information and election-related topics that are shared.  A new and fascinating piece of info I’ve just picked up via seeing it referred to on twitter is about Obama buying ads in online video games.  For instance X-box Live car racing gameplayers in ten States will be able to see “a roadside billboard which carries Obama’s picture and says ‘Early Voting Has Begun’.  Other billboards feature an Obama website address,, and the words ‘Paid For By Obama for President’.” See here for more. 

[0447] Returning to the theme we pick up at this time of night after every debate, TV pundits vs pollsters and ordinary people.  In my day job I sometimes rail against focus groups and polling, and with good reason when these seem to be the basis for making policy or communication decisions or exclude most of the population by only being done in swing seats.  But on occasions, they serve a very valuable function.  And after the debates is one of them.  There’s another good discussion on Daily Kos about it, entitled “snap polls render pundits obsolete”.  We’re not there yet; not do I think that’ll ever actually be the case fully.  But he best line though is at the end of that post. “They don’t like it, but polling technology is one more way their role as gatekeepers has been diminished.” That’s the really important bit.  And like the video mash-ups and clips spreading like wildfire through the web in the minutes and hours after the debate (see 0440 below), it is all about democratising political discourse.   

[0440] One of the clips of the night, and quite a laugh – if you’re not McCain or a Republican supporter – comes from McCain’s reaction in the health insurance segment to hearing Obama say “Joe plumber’s fine would be zero”.   That moment has now been nicknamed McCain’s “deer in headlights” moment. See for yourself here.  Politics can be cruel.  And with all this new technology now at people’s fingertips, it can be even crueller, even quicker!

[0432] Super stuff via Twitter: wabisabi says: “turns out the plumbers have already endorsed Obama.” And links to this story on the plumbing union backing Obama.

[0421] Justin Webb hearts Schieffer, the moderator.  That’s very much the impression from his comments on the BBC’s debate ticker , and also see back to [0222]  I agree Bob did a good job generally.  Though that may also have a lot to do with the furniture and set, and the specific format of this debate – all not decided and completely out of the control of the moderator. But there’s a bit backlash on the progressive blogosphere to how it seemed that he often gave McCain the last word, or the extra comeback; making it seem even more than Obama was on the defensive and struggling.  Ironically, as seen by the polling, those extra negatives and attacks from McCain may just hurt him more.

[0419] Just realised McCain never said “my friends” once.  Just shows that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

[0418] Update on the CNN instapoll. Obama won big on credibility to deal with the economy. McCain lost big with his greater negative attacks.

[0416] That ‘seeming presidential’ question is a biggie.  Nate’s immediate post-debate analysis was “Congratulations, President Obama”, and he meant that both because there was no home-run or game-changer for McCain, but also because Obama came across so well. So calm as I pointed out earlier.  And Trapper John  (on Daily Kos) makes a nice point about this:

“And Barack Obama isn’t just cool — he’s redefined cool in politics.  He’s gotten past 20 years of presidents who equate anger with passion.  There hasn’t been a president who could keep an even keel since Reagan — and even then, he was more easy-goin’ than cool.  Reagan was detached.  But Barack Obama is engaged, intelligent, and calm — but he’s no Adlai Stevenson.  He’s always cool”

[0411] Taking it down to individual voter reaction: from the Twitter Churelliestonight, for the first time I thought of what Obama would be like as “President” and I was happy.”

[0406] “Obama wins big” is one of the headlines on Daily Kos.  That’s not their analysis but the news from the instant polling.  CBS undecideds: Obama 53, McCain 22. CNN: Obama 58, McCain 31. [Update] Even the Fox focus group went for Obama in a big way.

[0401] The focus group results are coming in … and seems to be good for Obama.  Joe the Plumber seems to have been a distraction and a turn-off mainly.  The Ayers segment didn’t resonate either with swing voters. 

[0355] I can’t watch MSNBC coverage sadly (my housemate would kill me if I was watching TV downstairs, by her room), but you can catch up on what MSNBC stars Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan were saying at  Rachel is one of the new darlings of the progressives, but Pat is certainly not.  But even he says Obama scored on issues like NAFTA which play well in places like Pennsylvania.  Plus he “thought it was McCain’s best performance of the past 3 debates, but Obama was even more cooler and collected than he’s been.”  Praise indeed from Pat.

[0349] If you aren’t sick of him, but instead want to find out a bit more about who Joe the plumber is and the origins of why he’s come to promimence, see

[0347] “Is Joe the plumber and Joe-6-pack the same person?” asks someone on CNN.  Interestingly, the response seems to be (apart from someone better register “joe the plumber” as a domain, trade name, put it on vans etc), ‘I wanted it to be more about me and the issues, not about joe”.

[0340] CNN is reporting from a debate viewing party in Atlanta, held in one of these super-churches.  They had 4000 people turning up. To watch the debate.  Holy cow! 4000.  That’s four thousand. Three zeros after four.  Incredible levels of interest.  I’m guessing no drinking games either inside the church, just lots of audience participation and crowd noise I’m sure. 

[0338] Everyone’s talking about … Joe the plumber.  “A whiff of absurdity” about how much he turned up says a commentator on BBC Radio 5 Live.  A CNN analyst said that McCain’s repeated mentions of him went OTT and seemed contrived and possibly counter-productive. 

[0336] Good spot / factcheck from Sean on 538: “McCain keeps saying Palin’s son has autism, but it’s Down’s Syndrome.” Only a small point, but still fascinating that he didn’t get this right.

[0333] I like this summary of McCain’s closing words on firedoglake:  “I think we’ve had a very healthy discussion . . . even though “I’ve insulted you for the last 80 minutes.” 

[0331] That’s it.  For 4 years. No more debates.  But don’t worry.  After 90 minutes of debate, 90 minutes of analysis.  That’s how CNN pitches it just now, and that’s what I’m happy to provide and join in with too.

[0330] Obama: “change, not the same failed policies as the last 8 years” – he’s good at repeating a constant narrative throughout his campaign.  A really emotional, passionate ending by Obama.

[0328] Final final closing statements by the candidates.  McCain asks “who can you trust?”. Obama a lot of people will be shouting into their TV sets.

[0326] A plug on TV for where you can see all the debates in full again. Hooray. 

[0325] I suspect they’ll be some comeback for McCain on this one.  He refers to Michelle Obama but doesn’t actually name her.  A bit like the “that one” non-naming of Obama last time.

[0323] Another great line by Obama, almost immediately after the last one. “America’s youth aren’t an interest group, they’re our future”.

[0322]  At last, Obama cracks a joke.  “With Bush’s No Child Left Behind initiative, he left the funding behind”.  Nice line.

[0320] McCain points out that some of the worst schools in America get the most money per student.  Does it no occur to him that some of these schools might be in the most deprived areas where parents aren’t able to provide much support and there is a need to give much more state-funded support?

[0318] The last topic – education – is answered.  Oh no, the last topic. Already.  But I am really enjoying this debate.  And the whole debate fun in general. I can go on, can’t they?

[0316] “Of course we have to come together” sounds a very pat line from McCain.  You believe Obama much more when he talks about consensus-seeking and building.  And that may be part of what Americans – at least subconsciously – are looking for after 8 years of Bush (or more if you include the partisan bitterness in Washington since 1994).

[0312] Wait, McCain does come back on this one.  And brings up Obama’s voting record, which Obama then has to spend a bit of time defending.  This does put Obama on the back foot, but at least it gives him the opportunity and time to put his positions clearly and with dignity. 

[0310] Roe v Wade. Litmus tests and ideological standards for judges.  McCain says he wants to pick on qualifications, but stays clear of talking about abortion.  Keeping quiet is better for McCain than anything else on this.  Obama on the other hand can – and does – speak more eloquently and emotionally on the rights of women, privacy and the role of the courts. 

[0305] Okay.  I’m a little wiser now.  But in a few seconds time I’ll have forgetten it all again. Not the most exciting segment.  Very detailed.  But very important too.

[0301] Aha. Last time we got a tiny remark by McCain on fines if you don’t get health insurance, or something like that on Obama’s plans.  Now we get a proper discussion about it.  The question was answered, albeit a week later.  I confess I don’t quite understand all the details, terminology and ins and outs of each candidate’s healthcare plans, as just described.

[0258] Healthcare.  We haven’t had a proper question on this for ages, until now.  Interestly it is framed in terms of costs and what can we afford, not what should people deserve.  McCain gets to bring up Joe the plumber again and how he would react to Obama’s healthcare plan. 

[0256] Obama as Herbert Hoover, that’s who McCain is trying to paint him as.  I don’t buy that at all, especially as it is a reminder that it was a Democrat – FDR – who was the saviour at a time of Depression.

[0253] McCain attacks Obama for not travelling south of America to places like Colombia.  But that immediately makes me think of Palin and her not travelling anywhere outside the States until last year/

[0248] Obama coming across as very cool and calm seems to be the general reaction.  McCain less angry and frustrated than in the past, but still gives out signs of smirks, disrespect to Obama and other unsympathetic facial expressions. It comes across badly in the split screens the TV networks are doing a lot of this debate, showing the two men’s faces in close up side-by-side. 

[0246] One of McCain’s main attack lines seems to be ‘Obama will raise taxes’.  It may not be true (except for the top 5% or so), but at least he’s decided to stick to a couple of main narratives and attacks and repeat them ad naseum, rather than the scatter-gun approach of before. 

[0245] McCain interestingly gives an unprompted backing and shout-out to Palin’s husband Todd, who got criticised alomng with his wife in the Troopergate report.

[0244] “We’re going to sweep out the old boy’s club” says McCain about him and Palin.  Does that mean he’ll sweep himself out too?

[0240] 538 and those on twitter are picking up on the fact that the wonderful CNN audience reaction dials show a significant gender gap.  Women are digging Obama and really not liking McCain at all, certainly compared to the men.  There is a stark gap on the bar chart each time McCain speaks.

[0238] McCain was too chicken to mention Ayers by name.  Obama picked that up and was able to give a clear positive answer on his relationship with Bill Ayers. “And the fact that it has become so much of a focus of your campaign McCain says much more about your campaign than mine”.  ….. cracking response. I loved that.

[0235] Ha ha. That’s hysterical.  McCain mentions ACORN and suggests that they are about to perpetuate the biggest electoral fraud in history.  Florida 2000? Ohio 2004? Republican-connected attempts to purge voter rolls? 

[0231] McCain seems a wuss and really thin-skinned. And scolding on the most minor of points. 

[0230] Brilliantly clear and effective response by Obama on Joe Lewis’s comments about the racism and nastiness at McCain rallies.  McCain dismisses it as “just a few fringe people, you always get that”.

[0229] There’s lots of talk on the wires about Bob Schieffer and his moderation, bringing equivalence to the negative ads and vitriol from both sides.

[0228] McCain says his feelings have been hurt by the negative ads. 1,2,3 aaahh ….

[0227] “Everytime a Republican has said an out-of-bounds remark I have repudiated it” says McCain.  That doesn;t stand up to any scrutiny whatsoever. Crazy in fact, given the films we’ve seen of Republican rallies.

[0224] Obama brought up all the instances he stood up to the ‘special interests’ within his own party. Interesting to see if that gets any reaction from the blogosphere.

[0222] Before I forget, I weighed into the quality of debate moderation issue over on the BBC website.  My comment on Justin Webb’s views on this subject can be read here

[0221] “Senator Obama, I am not President Bush.  If you want to run against Bush you should have stood 4 years ago.”

[0218] McCain going into specifics on how he would save money.  Gets to mention not just earmarks but also his favourite example of “the $2million overhead projector for the Chicago planetarium”.  I didn’t think it worked as an attack last time, but he and his advisors think otherwise.

[0214] Blog of the day I’m following as an extra source of comment and fun is the great Firedoglake – its a collaborative, unashamedly progressive blog and well worth a read.

[0211] “Joe the plumber” is a lucky guy.  He is the centre of this debate on the economic rescue package, and all for asking a question to Obama at a campaign event some weeks ago.   

[0208] McCain seems to have learnt from his past mistakes and is looking direct to camera and giving straight, simple answers; and attacking Obama in a more subtle way than before.  The Twitter community is pointing out how much McCain is blinking.  I hadn’t noticed it, but now it’s been pointed out to me ….. oh yeah.

[0206] Instead of bland opening statements you have McCain and Obama explaining what their economic plans would be.  McCain stresses help for home-owners and tries to put a dividing line between him and the Bush administration. 

[0205] The difference in tonight’s format, which will be much commenting on, is that both candidates are sharing a large desk, so are physically much closer together.

[0202] We are about to be underway.  Incidentally, earlier tonight I watched the ‘live’ presidential debate on the final series of West Wing.  Excellent and gripping stuff.  Hope this lives up to that kind of real debate.

[0159]  The wonders of advertising – I get a “pause” in programming whilst viewers in the States see some fun ads.  On the subject of political ads, Obama has bought up 30mins of airtime on some of the big networks at the end of October, to give himself some unmoderated, unfiltered access to the American public.  30mins is a long time to fill, but he’s doing it partly to seem presidential.

[0154] Are we going to get McCain hitting Obama on Ayers (the reformed Weatherman), just as he has promised to do?  Negative attacks don’t seem to be working at this time, so will be interesting to see whether he spends time trying to do exactly that.

[0145] So welcome to this final night of presidential debates. “I want to be a part of it …. New York, New York” is going round in my head.  The candidates are at Hofstra University, upstate New York and about to resume moderated hostilities one last time.  Shame, as I’ll miss these late night skirmishes, and the community of bloggers and others staying up to watch, comment and participate in proceedings.

October 16, 2008 Posted by | debates | , , , | 3 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  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

Liveblogging the 2nd presidential debate

[0452] Okay, that’s me done for the night.  My housemate will soon be getting up for work, and I have to do the same in only 4 hours or so.  There’s one more debate to come, next week.  Here’s hoping that is more successful and enlightening … but with the same good Obama result.  And in the meantime, have a look at these photos capturing the flavour of debate watching, the election season, the diversity of America and Americans and the amazing roadtrip that the 538 site has been going on as part of their coverage. 

[0439] The instapolls are out and they say that Obama generally had a good night, and “won”; whilst McCain didn’t improve his own standings and seems to have “lost” or at best “drawn” proceedings.  As significant as the numbers are, there’s something even more powerful about these instapolls.  As Kos says – and its very much the theme of his book ‘crashing the gate’ and his new one which i am just reading ‘taking on the system’ – “we no longer need to suffer the conventional wisdom-setting power of the Right Wing Noise Machine pretending to speak for the American people. Today, the American people can speak for themselves.”

[0434] It’s worth having a look at Justin Webb’s liveblogging of tonight; less for his own comments and more because it nicely brings together a range of views and contributions from bloggers, analysts and audience.  I had also hadn’t seen its updated, cute look with all the symbols.  Makes it more eye-catching than my efforts, that’s for sure.

[0416] People want answers not attacks.  They are less interested in body language than content.  That’s what is being said in polls and in interviews, according to a CNN analyst.  Whether that’s actually true or not, or the respondents are simply trying to sound intelligent and highbrow, the people didn’t get their wish tonight.  There were more attacks than the last debate, and fewer concrete policy conversations.

[0414] Time for some humour to stay awake for a bit longer.  Just seen this on Twitter, which is credited to Jay Leno: “Mccain and Palin are a good ticket and go well together.  Palin is pro-life and McCain is clinging to life”.  I paraphrased it; it probably was better in its original form.

[0410] Running out of energy. Much like the coverage.  Georgia10 on Daily Kos sums up where we are after the debate: “in being ordinary when the circumstances called for the extraordinary, McCain ensured the status quo – which now heavily favours Obama – remains in place.”

[0402] A facial analyst on CNN actually comes up with a good observation.  Brokaw was the one who hit hardest about corporate greed and irresponsibility, channeling Main Street’s anger with Wall Street.  Neither of the candidates quite tapped into the same sentiment or went as far. 

[0359] The all important – well, just interesting – Kos debate response.  Null points to the debate format and to Tom Brokaw’s moderation.  Obama did fine. McCain’s attacks didn’t work not because of the content but because (according to polling) McCain isn’t “trusted.  And when the guy who isn’t liked attacks, he is liked even less.”

[0349] The blogs and the youtube moment seems to be McCain’s calling of Obama “that one”. Reminds me of that West Wing episode (Season 2, episode 1) when Bartlet is angry at the suggestion that he shouldn’t refer to his opponent by name, and Bartlet responds by saying “won’t it make me look addled, or dotty. And even if doesn’t, it’s just a stupid idea”.  Point proved tonight. Bartlett 1, McCain 0. 

[0345] And there was  criticism  of Brokaw from one of his own.  They seemed to suggest that he was frustrated as an aloof journalist trying to stand above the partisan fray, and misjudged what what actually wanted / need from this debate.   Daily Kos also picks this up.

[0341] “There’s not enough town in this townhall” – Candy Crowley / Hilary Rosen both made this great comment on CNN.  They noticed what I did – the flat atmosphere and the missed opportunity for a more back-and-forth debate, or for connections with people in the audience or wider. 

[0339] There was lots of backchat on twitter about McCain moving around so much on stage and how he looked a bit uneasy or weird.

[0335] That’s the debate over. Muted applause from a muted audience.  But the fun really starts backstage and in the spin rooms, chat rooms, and living rooms of the nation.

[0334] McCain is more “I believe”, “my service”, “my record”, “my country”; while Obama was more about what the country has given him.

[0332] A “zen-like question” on “what don’t you know”; and fittingly a zen-like answer from Obama to start with; which he then turns into a quick personal history, explanation of why he is running for President; and an optimistic note to end on. 

[0330] Oh, no. The last question. Already. Damn.

[0328] Time for the obligatory genefluction to the Israel / Zionist lobby.  And I saw Zionist not in conspiracy theory way but as it refers to that section of the evangelical Christian community who are more zealous and hawkish on Israel than many American Jews.

[0324] McCain’s answer on Russia is the stronger.  And then he actually for almost the first time comes across well when he expresses his genuine emotion when he thanks a questioner (who is a former military man) for his service. 

[0322] It’s weird not having any reaction allowed from the audience.  Very unnatural and eerie, especially as the questions are mainly coming from the audience.  We do things much better on BBCs Question Time.  The applause, the occasional boos and just the subconscious human reactions of the live audience make better watching; and certainly so compared to these wavy lines across my screen.

[0316] A back and forth bitter exchange on Afghanistan and attitudes to war and diplomacy.  Brokaw finally has to give in and ‘allow’ follow ups.  Wasn’t really allow, the candidates were at each other and too keen to get in another blow for Brokaw to hold them back.  Not sure Obama was right though to use the phrase “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” in his comeback on McCain – he sounded a bit lame.  Better to lack the yoof and the satirists (and us bloggers) do this dirty work. 

[0313] An exchange about soft words and big sticks.  Sexual inneundo time.  Next up perhaps, 1996 Republican candidate Bob Dole and his viagra advertising?

[0311] A few minutes ago McCain said his hero was “Ronald Reagan”. Just now he said his hero was “Teddy Roosevelt”.  Which is it?  Has he forgotten what he said a few minutes ago?  In which case, uh oh! 

[0307] The Obama doctrine is one of building up our international partners and our resources again.  And a focus on humaniterian, life-saving missions and small steps rather than grand designs.  The McCain doctrine seems to echo the Bush one on ‘staying the course’ and winning in Iraq, and on pushing ‘freedom’ and Americaan power.

[0306]  I think McCain just said “my friends again”, but I was munching on a square of chocolate. Thankfully those good folk on twitter are on the ball and confirm it, with hoots of derision aimed at the person who spoke those words. 

[0303] Foreign policy time. Obama responds to a line from McCain about “this is not the time to learn on the job”.  Obama says: “You are right, there are some things I don’t understand ….. like how we got into Iraq in the first place, a country which had nothing to do with 9/11.”  Touche!

[0259] “Did we hear the size of the fine?”  McCain asked before about whether Obama would answer this part of his health plan, and when no number was given he came back – in a snidey aside but one which may gain traction and get coverage in the hours ahead – to ask Obama again.  Except he didn’t ask Obama, he pointed out in a whiney way to the moderator this. So point not as effectively made as it could have been. 

[0255] Watching CNN’s coverage with the live tracking, it is instructive to see that the 3 lines (Republican, Democrat and Independent supporters) diverge much more when McCain is speaking compared to when Obama is.  McCain is geting the passionate, partisian reactions whilst Obama seems better at bridging the partisan divide – exactly the strength McCain says he has, not his opponent.

[0253] McCain again framing his answers with “the fundamental difference between myself and Obama”.  I guess he has to put up all these dividing lines (even where they aren’t so big) and going on the attack, to try and put fear and doubt and negatives about Obama in the minds of voters.  But it is not attractive; especially the way he is doing it and the tone he is adopting. 

[0250] “Nuclear power and drilling” are McCain’s solutions to energy crisis.  Obama supports both, but in moderation and in more of a proper mix with alternates. I get the impression that industry and big money lobbyists are closer to one of these candidates, and it isn’t Obama.  

[0249] All those at debate parties are going be drunk by now if they are playing the game.  McCain just said “my friends” again.

[0248] Brokaw still struggling with this moderation lark.  Its a tough gig admittedly, and he is trying to be scrupulously fair.

[0247] “For 30 years McCain says that politicians haven’t been doing anything [about energy].  But for 26 years he has been there, in the Senate. And he has done nothing.”  Good hit by Obama.

[0244] “I was on boats that were nuclear-plants” says McCain.  I know he means nuclear powered, but I just liked the funny image that he has just conjured up.

[0241] Another occasion when McCain comes across as condescending towards the person who asked the question.  And – I missed this a few minutes ago – another time McCain says “my friends”.  This is getting the Twitterati enraged.  Many are saying “I am not your friend, Mr McCain”.

[0240] I bet Charles Kennedy (Liberal Democrat leader at the last general election) is wishing he could have explained his tax policies as well and clearly as Obama is doing so now.

[0236] Obama has really hit upon a strong narrative – not just for this debate but for the whole campaign. See 0234.  He hit back at McCain’s suggestion of across the board spending freeze as this was not fairly sharing the burden, it would hit the poorest or most needy people hardest.

[0234] Obama: “all of are going to contribute, all of us going to suffer … but we need a fair sharing of the burden” -and by that he meant including the wealthy sharing the burden.

[0232] Brilliant answer on leadership, by Obama (who else?).  He attacked Bush’s response to 9/11 by saying that Bush’s call to shop for the nation was not the type of service that was required. 

[0230] McCain says he wants “a spending freeze, except for defence and veterans affairs” – so he is prioritising wars over the domestic travails of his fellow citizens.

[0228] Tom Brokaw is struggling to keep the candidates to time and to task. He yet again reminds them about the rules of the debate. You get he feeling he’s not quite in control here. McCain and Obama want too much to getttheir talking points and their hits in.

[0226] McCain dodged the prioritisation of issues question. He said he’d do all 3.  Obama’s response is much clearer and punchier.

[0222] McCain doesn’t learn. He just can’t help himself. He is spending all this question dissing Obama and doing him down.  Can’t see it working, except to energise his own base. The CNN real-time rater by a panel of voters seems to agre with me.

[0221] McCain: “the system is Washington is broken.”  Look at me I am a maverick, a bi-partisan; not another Bush he is trying to stress. 

[0220] Obama speaking and there was a cut back shot of McCain looking quite sneering and unsympathetic.

[0216] From twitter (KingNerd): “a vote for Obama is a vote for a recession. A vote for McCain is a vote for a depression.”  Nice. I’m sure that’s a campaign slogan but I hadn’t heard it until now.

[0214] Fannie and Freddie.  I pity anyone called those names in the States, because now they have such negative connotations. McCain just laying into them.

[0212] Nice to know from twitter feeds that i’m not the only who struggles with McCain’s voice. It’s just not that easy to listen to. Though when he gets passionate rather than condescending it’s better.

[0210] Possible Treasury Secretaries: Meg Whitman (Ebay CEO) for McCain; Warren Buffet for Obama. 

[0208] McCain is walking around and a bit more animated.  “I have a plan” he says. Uh oh. Starts off on energy independence as the long-term solution; then quotes some scary big stats which i didn’t quite follow but I guess were there to scare us.  But quite sound generally.

[0206] Obama sounding very sober and sombre, but with a little kick on city execs to show some passion.

[0205] “prosperity hasn’t rained down on all of us and now we need to take strong actions.”  Obama kicks off straight away on the subject of the hour.

[0203] Tom Brokaw of NBC –  a great man – is the moderator.  And this may be more exciting than I thought.  There will be 1 minute follow-ups and the candidates haven’t actually seen the questions. Happy to correct myself on that.  Hooray. 

[0201] How much are we going to her on the economy? Lots I suspect.  Wonder if Alistair Darling will be taking notes ahead of his important speech before the stock market opens in a few hours.

[0159] Okay. I’m back and ready for this debate.  I’m in London. The debate is in Nashville, Tenneesse.  Townhall format for the debate – see my post on this from earlier today.

October 8, 2008 Posted by | debates | , , , | Leave a 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

Liveblogging the first presidential debate

So I am trying something new. Liveblogging a big speech on my own site rather than or elsewhere.

Another new thing is following proceedings and people’s reactions via twitter. for the live feed.  Twitter s something I first started seeing in good use at the Big Tent and enjoying things so far, even if some very silly comments and dross amidst the good stuff.

I like this twist on the debate drinking game: donating money to Democrat candidates or Obama on mention of key words rather than downing a drink.  Maybe it appeals more as its almost 2am and I had my fill of alcohol earlier in the week at Labour Conference.

I’m watching / listening to the debate via CNN, but as well as the twitter feed (which is scrolling too fast for comfort there’s so much traffic on it) am keeping an eye on 538′s fab blog for analysis.  They’ve just got a shout out from CNN so they’re chuffed about that.

We’re underway … with the rules. Now I am excited and nervous.  Jim Lehrer sounds strict and no nonsense kind of guy as the moderator.

Obama kicks off. Forget how thin he looks on TV. A bit “programmed” is how one person on twitter sees his opening 2min speech and have to agree. Not quite engaging with me.

McCain sounding old and sombre and croaky. And not uptodate, as Senator Kennedy out of hospital  a short while ago yet McCain said he was still there.

McCain mentions the Normandy invasion. It makes me think he might have actually been there.  And reminds me of his age.  But he does a good bit on accountability and corporate greed.  Obama’s tack is try to connect today’s problems with failings over last 8 years – ie Bush and Republican mistakes.

Some back and forth on earmarks.  McCain trying to stick it to Obama. Its a fine balancing act, and I’m surprised there’s been no mention of Palin and bridges to nowhere. Perhaps the water is so muddy there in terms of who is telling the truth and what is spin that Obama doesn’t want to go into it.

This tax and earmarks and regulation thing has got a bit boring. Obama seems to be over-complicating things. McCain better at soundbites and buzz words in this section and going on offensive.  O is hitting back a bit on oil company tax breaks though.

Plenty of comments on twitter and 538 about eye contact and McCain not looking very much at Obama, even when speaking directly to him.

McCain just painted Obama as “that far to the left” and the most liberal current Senator. That’s patently ridiculous to sentient people, but is a line that they believe must work.

This for Nate on 538: “McCain, calling out ethanol subsidies as a bad thing, would seem (correctly) to have recognized that he’s lost Iowa.”  My watching of West Wing lead to my the same conclusion when I heard McCain’s comments.  I happen to agree with McCain on this issue, especialy given the effect of grain prices in the developing world partly thanks to so much land being given over to bio-fuel production.

“If we are going to be strong at home as well as abroad” – I like that Obama line and it allows a good narrative on shifting priorities and spending to domestic, progressive matters whilst reminding listeners of the follies of Bush’s foreign policy.

This is so much better already than the last of the Obama-Clinton primary debates.  The format of 2 min intros answering a specific question followed by 5mins of freer to-and-fro is generally working and the moderator has to be given a lot of that credit.

McCain did a good spiel about his maverick status, rolling out a list of where he has disagreed with his party and with Bush.  And referred to Palin as a fellow maverick too.

Finally after 40mins we are on to foreign policy: the original theme of this debate.  Lessons from Iraq is the question.  McCain pushing the successes of Petraues and the surge.  Obama’s answer – on why the war was wrong in the first place and the “we took our eye off the ball” and ignored Afghanistan argument – is almost word for word what he said during the primaries. Full marks for consistency. And it resonates strongly now because of waste of money in Iraq versus cash-strapped US economy.

Both candidates speaking quite flatly. Though McCain now getting more animated and tone modulating in talking about Iraq. You can tell he really believes in the surge success.   He’s trying to really hit Obama, but coming across to me a bit petty or snarky in his attacks. But it has got Obama more animated and strong in tone now too.

Someone on twitter just asked “are they running for president of Iraq?” Fair point, in that the last few mins have focused on the running of Iraq more than the running of US.  Does go to show how America is still the imperial power in Iraq  – not exactly a people running themselves on their own there.

Gordon Brown would be proud of the seriousness of this debate: its tone and in-depth policy discussions and general lack of histrionics or pyrotechnics.  Doesn’t make for quite as gripping viewing though.  It can do though. Or it did in the West Wing live presidential debate in series 7.  I can’t work out what the missing ingredient is here. Or rather why this isn’t quite what we were expecting. Maybe it is McCain’s overall flat, slow delivery.  Maybe it is Obama playing safe and not counter-punching enough.

The temperature’s just gone up. We are onto Iran. And McCain is raising the prospect of a second holocaust and generally trying to scare people by talking up Iran’s threat.  Obama a little more circumspect and uses the d word – diplomacy.

McCain is really going for the Bush tactics of fear. And trying for the Jewish / Zionist vote in his repeat references to the threats to Israel.  McCain brings out another axis of evil, this time with the right’s favourite bogeyman Chavez on the list.  Obama gives a very good, straight response explaining his diplomatic strategy and that he is prepared to try these things and will do what he thinks right and necessary, rather than an ideological and irrational zero-contact policy that McCain proposes.

Let’s lighten the mood a bit with a little diversion. Just seen this on Twitter feed: Sarah Palin nicknames: “Bible Spice” and “Caribou Barbie”.   I have mixed feelings. Funny and clever yes. But a bit condensending of women in politics too.

McCain trys to curry favour by saying “my friend, Kissinger.”  Can I try that same trick and say “my relative, Kissinger”?  Am I automatically a better voice on foreign policy because of that association?

We’re on to Russia now. This wasn’t on the radar in the primaries so an interesting test for both candidates, and also a chance to win over some people who will hear their perspective on Russia for the first time.  McCain lists lots of Russian names and places, to emphasise his experience and knowledge in this area. Or just to try redeeming himself after struggling with pronouncing the Iranian President’s name earlier.  Obama on the other hand neatly turns the question into one on energy and looking to the future and alternative sources of energy, where is is stronger.

Just had a quick look at the headlines on DailyKos. Georgia10 has some excellent anaysis: “we’ve seen that the debate styles, not surprisingly, reflect the campaign styles of these two candidates.  Barack Obama is occasionally delivering elegant, understated smackdowns (his response to the McCain’s corporate tax rate claim was brilliant).  McCain, on the other hand, is jabbing erratically, trying to squeeze in a hit here or there, but is largely missing his mark.”  That’s very well observed and succintly put. Will anyone come up with a better account of tonight? 

Final question on “are we safer now, or could there be another 9/11?”  McCain takes it back to Iraq and tries to have a go at his opponent; where as Obama opens it up to Alqaida globally and then takes it back to domestic concerns.  That very much has been a common theme tonight.

 “There are some advantages in experience” – McCain seems to be deliberately referencing Reagan’s famous quote. And goes on about not needing any “on the job training”.  He plays up his flexibility and judgement versus – as he sees it – Obama’s stubborness (like Bush) and inexperience and wrong judgement.
They both end trying to focus on connecting with the heart rather than the head: Obama talking about his father and linking foreign with domestic / financial concerns; McCain with some moving references to veterans and PoW. 

And that’s all for the contributions of the two candidates.  Now it is over to their surrogates and supporters to make the all-important interventions that will determine exactly how the media reports on tonight’s debate.  You don’t get anything on this scale or organisation after the leader’s speech at party conference.

The main talking point seems to be “presidential” versus “political”.  McCain campaign’s official statement says McCain was the former, Obama the latter. Very few of the bloggers, tweets or commentators I’ve read so far seem to agree with that.  The opposite was much more evident.  Especially as Obama made far fewer partisan comments (except maybe on Bush’s role in economic and foreign policy failings) and jibes; instead often given the more statesmanlike and considered answers.

Kos makes a good point about the quality of the moderation of this debate.  I’ve referred to that already, but agree with him its worth congratulating Jim Lehrer on his efforts tonight.  Let’s hope for more of the same in terms of the quality of the moderation.

According to pro-Obama bloggers, here is his best moment of the night:

“So John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007. You talk about the “surge,” the war started in 2003. At the time, when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said you knew where the weapons of mass destruction were — and you were wrong. You said we were going to be greeted as liberators — you were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shi’a and Sunni, and you were wrong. …if the question is, who is best equipped as the next president to make good decisions about how we use our military, how we make sure we are prepared and ready for the next conflict, then I think we can take a look at our judgment.”

Before I end this political fest and go to sleep, it is worth acknowledging a point made in various other places.  This was quite a heavy-going, wonky debate. How many people actually really paid attention to it and stayed with it? How much will it change the race; or were people bored and switched off?  McCain needed to make a bit of headway, so it matters most to him if this is seen by undecideds and the non-politically obsessed as a bore-draw.  Again the post-debate spin / coverage and who did best in the expectations games will be important.  So worth following things the next few days.

Next up debate-wise (on Thursday) are the two Vice Presidential candidates.  Palin is still doing her invisbility act, where as Biden is revelling in his ‘surrogate’ role tonight.  Wll be fascinating to see what happens at that debate.

Thanks Nate and Sean for your insights. And all those twittering. That’s all folks until the next time.

September 27, 2008 Posted by | debates | , , , | Leave a comment