SixFifty

lessons from America

A volunteer’s view of an Obama rally

Lightening does strike twice.  Denver has now been the venue for two record-breaking Obama events: the first the nomination acceptance at Inveso stadium, and now Sunday’s campaign rally which attracted a staggering 100,000 people.  And I have been there both times.   For the Convention I was part of the audience.  This time I was that, plus – along with a thousand others – an event volunteer as well.

We gathered in our designated group at 8am and were given our final instructions.  We were tasked with being some of the first points of contact rally-goers would have, as the made their way towards the park and the back of the queue to get in.  

  

The aim was to give everyone “sign in slips” to complete as their ‘ticket’ to get in.  But this wasn’t just a passive data gathering exercise, though it served that purpose too.  But it went further.  The idea was to engage people in a conversation and encourage them to sign up as volunteers for the campaign: willing to door knock and phone bank in the final week of the election, and – preferably – to take some or all of election day off to help with the crucial Get-Out-The-Vote activities. 

That wasn’t even the end of the key messages we were asked to get across.  For this event was primarily a push for people to early vote.  Colorado opens up certain designated polling stations the week before election day, and allows its citizens to vote in any of these locations in their county.  We had lists of early voting places in Denver County to give out to locals.  Moreover – and this is the really clever bit – a government office (the William Webb building) was open that Sunday, including the hours after the rally, just one block from the civic park where Obama was speaking.  So it was also a case of letting people know they could early vote straight after the rally, when they were all fired up.

 

So those were my tasks from 8am til about 11am.  I did have a short break and wandered along some of the ever-growing lines of people waiting expectantly and excitedly to get in to the rally site. 

 

And along with the crowds of supporters, inevitably there were people trying to promote various local / state ballot initiatives and also a handful of anti-Obama protestors. 

 

By 10.30am capacity had already been reached and so people were spilling over into any available spots. I took the chance to walk up to the State Capitol building, which was the highest point nearby and offered a great view of the crowds gathered below.  Numbers of people were taking advantage of its position and were viewing the rally from there, even if Obama must have only been a tiny dot to them.

  

At 11.30am all the volunteers gathered again at our original meeting spot and made our way over to a special entrance where we could still get access to the event.  Security was tight, with airport-style scanners and even things like apples and other items that could potentially be lobbed at Obama were conviscated on entry.   On the plus side, it gave me ample opportunity to chat with fellow volunteers in the queue – including one woman who was really putting her heart and soul (and virtually every waking minute) into the campaign; and a veteran who was proudly wearing a ‘Republicans for Obama’ t-shirt and happily defied sterotyping.

 

It was taking so long to get us through, that the last groups of volunteers – myself included – only just made it into the park in time for Obama’s entrance.  And for the first few minutes of his speech I was stuck miles from the main stage, unable to make my way through to the area reserved for campaign volunteers.  Some of the other volunteers were cursing the disorganisation of the campaign at that point and it was very frustrating. 

Thankfully, though, everything worked out and we were able to make our way much closer to where Obama was speaking.  So I ended up having a much better view of proceedings than I had done that night in the stadium at the Convention.

  

Obama’s speech itself was – by his standards – fairly perfunctory.  There were some longer segments on the economy, but otherwise it was a standard stump speech.  I guess I had the luxury of having heard him live at the Convention.  My favourites parts of his speech at this rally were his riff on “there are no red states or blue states, only the united states of america” and an emotional bit towards the end giving some historical context to Obama’s candidacy and welcoming new generations and new immigrants to these shores.  And he gave his useful powerful closing lines, rallying the army of footsoldiers and voters stretched out before him. 

(NB. You can see the short clips I took of parts of his speech here)

As to be expected, there was plenty of cheering and shouting both during Obama’s speech, and immediately afterwards … which was all happily lapped up by the media.

 

As the crowds started dispersing, I wanted my own mementos of the day; of having been there for another historic occasion.  So cue some cheesy shots:

   

My thanks goes to the two girls who took some of those photos of me, and whose placard I borrowed.

Exiting the park, my duties done, there were other more energetic and hard-working volunteers who were doing that all important task: signing the way to the early voting polling station and encouraging people to make that few minute detour to do vote there and then.  I gave the sign-holders a deeply felt “keep up the good work” type comment, as I was impressed at their stamina and enthusiasm after such an early start to our volunteering day.  

 

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October 30, 2008 Posted by | On the Campaign Trail | , , , , | 2 Comments

Minneapolis quick update

I’m sitting in a cafe taking a quick break from phone-banking.  Did three hours this morning and my next shift is starting in a couple of minutes.   I’m based in the Minneapolis downtown Obama office and its busy: maybe 20-25 people plus more coming and going.  There’s a dedicated call centre a few blocks away, but there’s a wider variety of activities in the office I’m in.  I’ve been put to work calling older people (more likely to be in during the day) to ensure they know where their local polling station is and to encourage them to vote not just for Obama but also for Al Franken for Senate and Keith Ellison for Congress.  I’ll update on my progress later.  And on the positive reactions I’ve got from other Obama volunteers.

October 29, 2008 Posted by | On the Campaign Trail | , , , | 2 Comments

A flavour of the Obama rally

I’ve uploaded some of my photos to flickr, so you can get a sense of the size of the rally.  Here are some video clips I took.

1) The view of the rally from the steps of the Capitol building, one hour before Obama’s speech. 

2) Audience chants of ‘yes we can’ during Obama’s speech.

3) Uplifting segment of Obama’s speech about unity and the ‘united states’ of america.

4) Closing lines of Obama’s speech and the applause afterwards

October 28, 2008 Posted by | On the Campaign Trail | , , | 3 Comments

Preparing for an Obama rally

This is no ordinary election campaign, that is for certain.  In case I needed any reminders about this, I’ve experienced it first hand these past 36 hours.  And it is the level and intensity of support for Obama that I am talking about.  Today another record fell: that of largest campaign rally.  100,000 people (including me) turned up in and around Denver Civic Park to hear Obama speak.  But just as symbolic and humbling was the fact that over 800 people turned up on a Saturday evening to sign up as volunteers for the rally and take part in a 90min training and briefing session. 

I’d heard from Amalie about the opportunity to become an event volunteer and decided to join her and a couple of other swing semester folk in attendiing the session.  Everyone was taken aback, impressed and inspired by the size and diversity of people who come to be volunteers.   

    

There were various pep talks, putting our efforts in the context of the wider race(s) to be won, and also information on early voting and other related advice that we were meant to pass on to others at the rally.   We were then split off into two – one half who would be doing the staffing inside the venue and at the entrance; the other half (which I was in) would be encouraging people to sign up for volunteering over the final week of the campaign and also to early vote.  We were then split off into small teams of 20-30 people, each of whom were headed by a ‘precinct captain’, an Obama staffer.  My team leader was called John Manners and he was the guy who would we would find on the Sunday morning to give us our final instructions and the sign-up forms to hand out.

 

October 27, 2008 Posted by | On the Campaign Trail | , , , | 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

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

I must be doing something right

Hey, I’ve arrived as a blogger. This morning I received my first troll comment: a rant with all the usual anti-Obama talking points and Obama myths.  You name it, it is there:

(i) Obama not being a natural-born citizen of the US (ii) birth certificate fakery (iii) the anti-American Michelle (iv) Ayers (v) Acorn (vii) pastor (viii) raising taxes (ix) anti-Israel (x) earmarks (xi) Obama never running anything or in charge of a budget.

That last one cracks me up.  How many hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of people (staff and volunteers) is Obama ultimately leading during his primary and presidential campaigns? 

But the misguided troll then asks “do you trust Obama?”  Basic rule that this guy forgot: never close your argument with a question that could be answered it in a way you don’t want.  I won’t be approving his comment for publication on this blog, as it is not an attempt to engage with any discussion on this site or respond to any particular post.  But I will answer his question for him:

Yes, I trust Obama.

October 17, 2008 Posted by | the world wants obama, Uncategorized | , , | 2 Comments

Florida answers magnificently

Holy moly.  This is awesome. Remember the Big Schlep.  I thought my 91 year old relative (she’s a year younger than I remembered) would not be open to persuasion on her vote, such were assumptions about her.  I was so pessimistic I didn’t even bother to contact her.  But my mother stepped up to the plate, fired up by Sarah Silverman’s video, and sent an email to our elderly relative instead.  The email used the talking points which exposed the myths about Obama (like ‘he’s a Muslim terrorist’ etc) and gave the positive reasons to vote for Obama.  And look what she got back today:

“Thank you for your long letter praising our next president, we hope Obama. We and most of our friends are supporters of Obama and we all hope that he will get elected.”

Wow.  That is brilliant. And momentous.  The friends she is talking about are likely to be residents of similar gated retirements communities, the sort not obviously ever in ‘Obama’s column’.  But they are.  And if this picture is repeated across the state, then we may well be looking at Florida turning blue this election, a very handsome electoral college win for soon-to-be President Obama.  Indeed, that is looking the case. Today 538 predict Obama to win Florida by 4.6%.  And electoral-vote.com‘s aggregate of polling also gives Obama the state by a similar margin.

October 16, 2008 Posted by | 50 State strategy, 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 election.twitter.com 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, voteforchange.com, 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 http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2008/10/15/1550252.aspx.  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 http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/10/15/who-is-joe-the-plumber/

[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 www.mydebates.org 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 http://firedoglake.com/ – 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

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