Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What Lessons Did Obama Take Away From Chicago and Illinois Politics?

Blago Tries to Box In Reid, Dennis Byrne, Real Clear Politics, December 31, 2008.

Anyone willing to accept Gov. Rod Blagojevich's appointment as Illinois' U.S. senator should be considered too stupid to hold the job. Incredibly, the besieged governor actually found someone crazy enough to agree to fill President-elect Barack Obama's vacated senate seat. That person is Roland Burris, a lifelong creature of smarmy state and local Democratic politics, a former one-term state attorney general and three-term state comptroller.

Although Burris was elected to those offices several times by comfortable majorities, he had failed in recent attempts at higher office, as governor (running unsuccessfully in a three-way primary against Blagojevich) and as mayor of Chicago. (Yes, in Illinois, mayor of Chicago is considered the highest of all offices, save the presidency.) Burris had been fading into obscurity, running a consultancy that certified minority contractors and handled government bond issues, plums much more cherished and traditional for party loyalists here than the standard gold watch. Burris was no longer considered a player and had not been on the governor's list of possible appointees prior to his arrest.

Only a man with deep personal cravings could have blinded himself to ridiculousness of the course he has chosen. Senate President Harry Reid, in an unusual statement issued even before the governor announced the appointment, flatly said the body would not confirm anyone appointed by Blagojevich, and mentioned Burris by name. Also, before the appointment was announced, Illinois Sec. of State Jessie White also issued a statement saying that he would not certify the Burris appointment. A few have questioned whether Reid and White had the legal authority to exclude Burris from the Senate, but the cloud hanging over the entire affair is dark and heavy, whatever the legal implications.

Blagojevich and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who showed up at the announcement press conference, praised Burris' "fine record of public service," although my own view is that just getting through a political career here without the usual political taint qualifies as the finest of records. Burris accepted the accolades without seeming to understand the irony. But Rush aptly demonstrated the cynicism of Blagojevich's action by brandishing the blunt weapon of racism. Rush, an African American, warned that a senate that refused to seat Burris, an African American, would be engaging in a "hanging" and "lynching." Even by Chicago political standards, the deployment of those inflammatory words was an extraordinarily slimy racist play.

But that's Chicago for you. By appointing a black man, Blagojevich figured that he would put Reid in the hot seat by forcing him to shut out the only African American in the Senate. And it was a challenge to White, also an African American and a quite popular one at that, who would find himself explaining why he was blocking the Senate's only black member. Blagojevich, as is his habit, might have miscalculated. Reid's letter to the governor was remarkably strong, and all Senate Democrats signed an earlier one warning him not to appoint anyone. Whatever becomes of it, however, Blagojevich's gambit should produce some interesting results, especially if Democrats are willing to stand up to one of their main constituencies by "denying" the seat to Burris. I can just hear Blagojevich telling Reid, "Threaten me, will you? How do you like the box that I'm putting you in."

Now, if you think this whole affair had been scripted for the theater of the absurd, you'd be right. Absurd is how Illinois and Chicago politics works. And we have one of the worst governed, most financially troubled states in the nation to prove it--a state, it should be noted--run entirely by Democrats. You can be forgiven if you think that what we witnessed with the appointment is the result of one man's pathology, and surely not every pol in the state could be that stupid, insane or destructive. But you'd be wrong. What unfolded on Tuesday is characteristic of how politics here is played. Anyone, including David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, who are among Obama's top advisors, are capable of the same kind of goofiness and hardball.

By now, is there a single Obama supporter anywhere who fails to understand why some of us here were so concerned about him in the White House with his Chicago outfit?

Dennis Byrne is a Chicago Tribune op-ed columnist.

Text Source: Real Clear Politics

Image Source: Obama and Mayor Daley, Los Angles Times

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How Obvious Was the Media Bias in the 2008 Presidential Election?

News Flash: The Media Back Obama---Its activist role has been the single constant in this eternal election, Dorothy Rabinowitz, Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2008.

Both time and events have dimmed those defining moments that early on revealed the difference between the two presidential aspirants. Not only did the financial crisis arrive but so, in her uproarious way, did Sarah Palin. Tuesday's debate between two candidates paralyzed by caution altered nothing. It was a relief, of course, not to hear about Sen. McCain's record as a "maverick" -- a word that would, in a merciful world, be banned from public discourse for the next decade. It was too much to expect Barack Obama to spare us further recitals of the McCain-Bush connection.

The single constant in the eternal election remains the media, whose activist role no one will seriously dispute. To point out the prevailing (with honorable exceptions) double standard of reporting so favorable to Mr. Obama by now feels superfluous -- much like talking about the weather. The same holds true for all those reports pointing to Mr. Obama's heroic status outside the United States -- not to mention the cascade of press analyses warning that if he fails to win election, the cause will surely be racism.

None of this means that the media's role will go unremembered -- who will forget MSNBC news, voice of the Obama campaign? Never has a presidential election produced more fodder for the making and breaking -- or tainting -- of reputations. The same is true of news sources making far greater claims to fairness. So it was only slightly startling to read a New York Times forecast (Sept. 22) about the presidential debate to come in which reporter Katharine Q. Seelye declared, " . . . Mr. Obama should expect Mr. McCain to question his credentials for the job at every turn -- and to distort his views, as Mr. Romney insisted he did."

That first debate brought the usual legions of commentators -- among them CNN foreign correspondent Christiane Amanpour. John McCain, she pointed out, had stumbled over Ahmadinejad's name, and as he was supposed to be the expert on foreign policy, it made her giggle. "That's not fair -- people make mistakes all the time," Anderson Cooper shot back. But Ms. Amanpour, whose capacity for sustained levels of bombast is one of the wonders of the world, was having none of it.

She would go on to raise the theme so central to the Obama campaign, and held, as revealed truth, by the politically progressive everywhere -- that the U.S., fallen low in the eyes of the world, is now in dire need of moral salvation. Everywhere she went in America, Ms. Amanpour declared, she found "desperate Americans" -- desperate, that is, about the low esteem in which the country was held, desperate to have a president who would lift America up.

Mr. Obama could not have said it better himself. He is the leading exponent of the idea that our lost nation requires rehabilitation in the eyes of the world -- and it is the most telling difference between him and Mr. McCain. When asked, in one of the earliest debates of the primary, his first priority should he become president, his answer was clear. He would go abroad immediately to make amends, and assure allies and others in the world America had alienated, that we were prepared to do all necessary to gain back their respect.

It is impossible to imagine those words coming from Mr. McCain. Mr. Obama has uttered them repeatedly one way or another and no wonder. They are in his bones, this impossible-to-conceal belief that we've lost face among the nations of the world -- presumably our moral superiors. He is here to reform the fallen America and make us worthy again of respect. It is not in him, this thoughtful, civilized academic, to grasp the identification with country that Mr. McCain has in his bones -- his knowledge that we are far from perfect, but not ready, never ready, to take up the vision of us advanced by our enemies. That identification, the understanding of its importance and of the dangers in its absence -- is the magnet that has above all else drawn voters to Mr. McCain.

Sen. Obama is not responsible for the political culture, but he is in good part its product. Which is perhaps how it happened that in his 20 years in the church of Rev. Jeremiah Wright -- passionate proponent of the view of America as the world's leading agent of evil and injustice -- he found nothing strange or alienating. To the contrary, when Rev. Wright's screeds began rolling out on televisions all over the country, Mr. Obama's first response was to mount a militant defense and charge that Rev. Wright had been taken out of context, "cut into snippets." This he continued to do until it became untenable. Then came the subject-changing speech on race. Such defining moments tell more than all the talk of Sen. Obama's association with the bomb-planting humanist, William Ayers.

These sharp differences between the candidates as to who we are as a nation may not seem, now, as potent an issue for voters as the economy, but they should not be underestimated. This clash -- not the ones on abortion or gay marriage -- is the root of the real culture war to play out in November.

Text and Top Image Source: Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2008.

Bottom Image Source: Good Dog Play Dead

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Was The Obama Operation The Harbinger Of A New, Realigned Type Of Post-Internet Politics ?

Obama Won The Old-Fashioned Way, Steven Stark, December 24, 2008.

Conventional wisdom dictates that Barack Obama was swept into office on the winds of change. History books will surely echo that notion. But while those are sentimentally satisfying explanations for what took place this past November, Obama owes his presidency largely to cold hard cash.

Though the American dollar is now taking a horrific beating in these financial End Times, it's still strong enough to put a man in the Oval Office. In the end, Obama's victory was notable in a number of ways, most obviously because of his race. But in political terms, it was about as conventional as they come. That's an important distinction, because it tells us a lot about our likely political future. Remember that, at the beginning of this fall campaign, the press fell all over itself proclaiming the Obama operation as the harbinger of a new, realigned type of post-Internet politics -- able to mobilize a massive network, mostly of the young, at a moment's notice. Turnout was predicted to set new records.

In reality, turnout was up, but not by much, and the young comprised nearly the same percentage of the vote they always have. As for Obama's decisive victory? It was about what one would expect from any challenger to an incumbent party running in the midst of a recession and the worst economic crisis in a generation. Still, the Obama campaign did make political history with an unexpected innovation: it brilliantly used the Internet to convert enthusiasm into money. And that helped make Obama the greatest political fundraiser of all time.

Essentially, then, he won the presidency the old-fashioned way, using his vast
This isn't meant to downplay the significance of his victory. Obama proved that he knows how the game is played, which is no small feat. And, undoubtedly, he captured something: there hasn't been as charismatic a candidate since John F. Kennedy. But as for the notion that he rewrote the political playbook, he really didn't, with the exception, of course, of raising cash.

What Obama did was to end the roughly 30-year period of public financing of presidential elections that began in the mid '70s. By becoming the first candidate to opt out of public funding in a general election -- something a Republican candidate would have had far more trouble doing, thanks to press criticism -- the Obama forces of various kinds went on to raise and spend around $750 million. That's more than John Kerry and George Bush raised combined in 2004.

That gave Obama more than twice as much money as John McCain, and he used it to outspend the GOP candidate on TV by 7-1 in Indiana, by 4-1 in Virginia, and by 2-1 in Ohio. As a consequence, these states went Democratic -- some for the first time in a generation. Yes, Obama had the best organization on the ground in modern presidential history. But he had it for a very good reason: in addition to all those volunteers, he was able to hire an awful lot of organizers.

All this is relevant in assessing whether Obama's victory actually signals a realignment of our presidential politics. The economic crisis could create a possible opening for an expansion of government and an era of Democratic rule. And now that he's the incumbent, Obama will be able to use the power of the office to help him secure re-election, as all his predecessors have tried to do. (Based on Obama's performance so far, he'll do it very well.)

Still, it's terribly unlikely anyone will ever again have that kind of financial advantage. As Michael Barone pointed out in a recent commentary, one can run to become the first African-American president only once. Next time, the thrill will be gone, or at least diminished. Should the economic slowdown continue, raising money is going to be much tougher, too, as colleges and charities have already begun to find out. Most important, Obama's fundraising magnetism is unlikely to benefit his Democratic colleagues.

That's why the one path open to the Democrats -- at least for the next two years -- is to try to change the federal-election laws in a way that benefits their party. It's clear the old rules don't work anymore -- only an idiot would take public funding in the future. Yet chances are that the Dems will be afraid to touch the system, now that it appears at first glance to finally benefit them. The bottom line is that Obama and the circumstances that led to his election this time appear unique. And uniqueness, by definition, isn't transferable. At least, the Republicans better hope that's the case.

Text Source: Real Clear Politics

Image Source: Elonkey

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Which Side Is Obama Gaming With Rick Warren On The Inaugural Podium?

A President-Elect's Progress From Rev. Wright to Rev. Warren, William Kristol, The Weekly Standard, December 29, 2008.

And the selection of Rick Warren may turn out to have significance beyond short-term political maneuvering. One can see this from the hysteria on the left and among gay activists. They sense that Obama isn't willing to sign on to their campaign to delegitimize, to cast out beyond the pale of polite society, anyone who opposes same-sex marriage--and in particular, anyone (like Warren) who supported Proposition 8 in California, the initiative that overturned the California Supreme Court's legalization of same-sex marriage.

The assault on Prop 8 supporters has been extraordinary in its mean-spiritedness and extremism--but the left knows what it's doing. The purpose has been to intimidate people with an opposing point of view from defending their position. To be against same-sex marriage, even against the judicial imposition of same-sex marriage, is to be a bigot. As one leftwinger said on CNN, Warren is a "hatemonger" comparable to "the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan." Or, as the Human Rights Campaign's Brad Luna told Byron York of National Review, dismissing the fact that the benediction will be delivered by the Reverend Joseph Lowery, who is more friendly to gay marriage: "I don't think any Jewish Americans would feel much comfort in knowing that an anti-Semite is starting the inauguration with an invocation, but we're going to end it with a rabbi." So the claim is, opposing same-sex marriage is tantamount to being a racist or an anti-Semite.

Making that charge is at the heart of the agenda of the gay lobby. They don't want to debate same-sex marriage. They want to demonize its opponents. Ironically, Lowery himself, who is a (somewhat equivocal) supporter of gay marriage, refuses to equate the gay rights and the civil rights movements: "Homosexuals as a people have never been enslaved because of their sexual orientation," he told the Associated Press. "They may have been scorned; they may have been discriminated against. But they've never been enslaved and declared less than human."

Text Source
: the center portion of a longer article in The Weekly Standard

Image Source: Thirty

Friday, December 19, 2008

NYT Headline: Obama Era Begins. Or Does It Just Continue The Past?

Dems Embrace Dynasty Politics, Charles Mahtesian,, December 17, 2008.

Barack Obama's path to the presidency included beating what had been one of the nation's most powerful families. But, in an unusual twist, his election last month is helping accelerate the trend toward dynasty politics.

His secretary of state will be Hillary Clinton, the wife of the former president. The Senate seat she’ll vacate is being pursued by Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of a president and the niece of two senators. Joe Biden’s Senate seat may go to his son Beau. Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, Obama’s pick for interior secretary, could end up being replaced by his brother, Rep. John Salazar.

And Obama’s own seat could go to the son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. – less likely now in light of developments in the Rod Blagojevich scandal – or to the daughter of Illinois’ current House speaker. The U.S. Senate could end up looking like an American version of the House of Lords – and Republicans have begun to take notice.

“Democrats seem to lack a common man who can just win a good, old-fashioned election,” said Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “They’ve got seat-warmers, seat-sellers and the making of pillows for the seats of royalty. No wonder the public wonders what’s going on in Washington.”

While Obama’s election and subsequent Cabinet appointments may have accelerated the trend toward dynasty, he’s hardly responsible for it. There is a rich bipartisan history of dynasty in American politics that dates all the way back to the Founding Fathers; Obama-Biden actually represents the first winning ticket since 1976 without a son or a grandson of a U.S. senator on it.

In 2008, the storied Udall clan, sometimes referred to as the Western Kennedys, saw two members elected to the Senate— Mark from Colorado and Tom from New Mexico. In 2010, they could be joined in the Senate by Florida’s Jeb Bush, the son and brother of presidents and the grandson of a senator. All told, it’s entirely possible that the Senate will be comprised of nearly a dozen congressional offspring by the end of Obama’s first term as president.

Text Source:

Image Source: Never Yet Melted

What Did Ayers and Obama Do Together ?

Obama and Ayers Pushed Radicalism On Schools, Stanly Kurtz, Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2008.

Despite having authored two autobiographies, Barack Obama has never written about his most important executive experience. From 1995 to 1999, he led an education foundation called the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC), and remained on the board until 2001. The group poured more than $100 million into the hands of community organizers and radical education activists. The CAC was the brainchild of Bill Ayers, a founder of the Weather Underground in the 1960s. Among other feats, Mr. Ayers and his cohorts bombed the Pentagon, and he has never expressed regret for his actions. Barack Obama's first run for the Illinois State Senate was launched at a 1995 gathering at Mr. Ayers's home.

The Obama campaign has struggled to downplay that association. Last April, Sen. Obama dismissed Mr. Ayers as just "a guy who lives in my neighborhood," and "not somebody who I exchange ideas with on a regular basis." Yet documents in the CAC archives make clear that Mr. Ayers and Mr. Obama were partners in the CAC. Those archives are housed in the Richard J. Daley Library at the University of Illinois at Chicago and I've recently spent days looking through them. The Chicago Annenberg Challenge was created ostensibly to improve Chicago's public schools. The funding came from a national education initiative by Ambassador Walter Annenberg. In early 1995, Mr. Obama was appointed the first chairman of the board, which handled fiscal matters. Mr. Ayers co-chaired the foundation's other key body, the "Collaborative," which shaped education policy.

The CAC's basic functioning has long been known, because its annual reports, evaluations and some board minutes were public. But the Daley archive contains additional board minutes, the Collaborative minutes, and documentation on the groups that CAC funded and rejected. The Daley archives show that Mr. Obama and Mr. Ayers worked as a team to advance the CAC agenda.

One unsettled question is how Mr. Obama, a former community organizer fresh out of law school, could vault to the top of a new foundation? In response to my questions, the Obama campaign issued a statement saying that Mr. Ayers had nothing to do with Obama's "recruitment" to the board. The statement says Deborah Leff and Patricia Albjerg Graham (presidents of other foundations) recruited him. Yet the archives show that, along with Ms. Leff and Ms. Graham, Mr. Ayers was one of a working group of five who assembled the initial board in 1994. Mr. Ayers founded CAC and was its guiding spirit. No one would have been appointed the CAC chairman without his approval.

The CAC's agenda flowed from Mr. Ayers's educational philosophy, which called for infusing students and their parents with a radical political commitment, and which downplayed achievement tests in favor of activism. In the mid-1960s, Mr. Ayers taught at a radical alternative school, and served as a community organizer in Cleveland's ghetto. In works like "City Kids, City Teachers" and "Teaching the Personal and the Political," Mr. Ayers wrote that teachers should be community organizers dedicated to provoking resistance to American racism and oppression. His preferred alternative? "I'm a radical, Leftist, small 'c' communist," Mr. Ayers said in an interview in Ron Chepesiuk's, "Sixties Radicals," at about the same time Mr. Ayers was forming CAC.

CAC translated Mr. Ayers's radicalism into practice. Instead of funding schools directly, it required schools to affiliate with "external partners," which actually got the money. Proposals from groups focused on math/science achievement were turned down. Instead CAC disbursed money through various far-left community organizers, such as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (or Acorn). Mr. Obama once conducted "leadership training" seminars with Acorn, and Acorn members also served as volunteers in Mr. Obama's early campaigns. External partners like the South Shore African Village Collaborative and the Dual Language Exchange focused more on political consciousness, Afrocentricity and bilingualism than traditional education. CAC's in-house evaluators comprehensively studied the effects of its grants on the test scores of Chicago public-school students. They found no evidence of educational improvement.

CAC also funded programs designed to promote "leadership" among parents. Ostensibly this was to enable parents to advocate on behalf of their children's education. In practice, it meant funding Mr. Obama's alma mater, the Developing Communities Project, to recruit parents to its overall political agenda. CAC records show that board member Arnold Weber was concerned that parents "organized" by community groups might be viewed by school principals "as a political threat." Mr. Obama arranged meetings with the Collaborative to smooth out Mr. Weber's objections. The Daley documents show that Mr. Ayers sat as an ex-officio member of the board Mr. Obama chaired through CAC's first year. He also served on the board's governance committee with Mr. Obama, and worked with him to craft CAC bylaws. Mr. Ayers made presentations to board meetings chaired by Mr. Obama. Mr. Ayers spoke for the Collaborative before the board. Likewise, Mr. Obama periodically spoke for the board at meetings of the Collaborative.

The Obama campaign notes that Mr. Ayers attended only six board meetings, and stresses that the Collaborative lost its "operational role" at CAC after the first year. Yet the Collaborative was demoted to a strictly advisory role largely because of ethical concerns, since the projects of Collaborative members were receiving grants. CAC's own evaluators noted that project accountability was hampered by the board's reluctance to break away from grant decisions made in 1995. So even after Mr. Ayers's formal sway declined, the board largely adhered to the grant program he had put in place.

Mr. Ayers's defenders claim that he has redeemed himself with public-spirited education work. That claim is hard to swallow if you understand that he views his education work as an effort to stoke resistance to an oppressive American system. He likes to stress that he learned of his first teaching job while in jail for a draft-board sit-in. For Mr. Ayers, teaching and his 1960s radicalism are two sides of the same coin.

Mr. Ayers is the founder of the "small schools" movement (heavily funded by CAC), in which individual schools built around specific political themes push students to "confront issues of inequity, war, and violence." He believes teacher education programs should serve as "sites of resistance" to an oppressive system. (His teacher-training programs were also CAC funded.) The point, says Mr. Ayers in his "Teaching Toward Freedom," is to "teach against oppression," against America's history of evil and racism, thereby forcing social transformation. The Obama campaign has cried foul when Bill Ayers comes up, claiming "guilt by association." Yet the issue here isn't guilt by association; it's guilt by participation. As CAC chairman, Mr. Obama was lending moral and financial support to Mr. Ayers and his radical circle. That is a story even if Mr. Ayers had never planted a single bomb 40 years ago.

Mr. Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Text and Image Source: Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2008.

How Does Bill Ayers View His Past?

Bill Ayers Whitewashes History, Again, Katha Pollitt, The Nation, December 8, 2008

It couldn't have been easy for Bill Ayers to keep quiet while the McCain campaign tarred him as the Obama's best friend, the terrorist. Unfortunately, the silence was too good to last. On Saturday's New York Times op-ed page, he announced that "it's finally time to tell my true story." Like his memoir, Fugitive Days , "The Real Bill Ayers" is a sentimentalized, self-justifying whitewash of his role in the weirdo violent fringe of the 1960s-70s antiwar left.

"I never killed or injured anyone, "Ayers writes. "In 1970, I co-founded the Weather Underground, an organization that was created after an accidental explosion that claimed the lives of three of our comrades in Greenwich Village." Right. Those people belonged to Weatherman, as did Ayers himself and Bernardine Dohrn, now his wife. Weatherman, Weather Underground, completely different! And never mind either that that "accidental explosion" was caused by the making of a nail bomb intended for a dance at Fort Dix.

Ayers writes that Weather Underground bombings were "symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam War." That no one was killed or injured was a monumental stroke of luck-- an unrelated bombing at the University of Wisconsin unintentionally killed a researcher and seriously injured four people. But if the point was to symbolize outrage, why not just spraypaint graffiti on government buildings or pour blood on military documents?

Spectacular violence, and creating fear of it, was the point. Along with beating people up and ridiculous escapades like running naked through white-working-class high schools shouting "Jailbreak!" It was what the Weatherpeople were all about.

"Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war," Ayers writes. " So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism; we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends." I'm not so sure that terrorism necessarily involves intentional attacks on people, but okay, let's say Ayers wasn't a terrorist. How about thuggish? Vainglorious? Egomaniacal? Staggeringly irresponsible? And illogical, don't forget illogical: as Hilzoy points out, the idea that because "peaceful protest" hadn't ended the war, bombs would is missing a couple of links. It's like a doctor saying, Well, chemo didn't cure your brain tumor, so I'll have to amputate your leg. It's not as if there was nothing else to try, after all. While Ayers and Dohrn were conveying their outrage, other people were doing the kind of organizing work that the Weather Underground despised as wimpy. Today Ayers blends himself into that broader movement, the "we-- the broad we" that "wrote letters, marched, talked to young men at inductions centers" etc., but at the time, Weatherpeople had nothing but contempt for the rest of the antiwar left. Writing letters? Off the pig! you might as well... become a community organizer!

I realize this is ancient history. As a friend who doesn't see why I am raking this all up argues, it's not as if today's left is bristling with macho streetfighters. It's hard to imagine anyone now applauding the Manson murders, as Dohrn notoriously did in l969, or dedicating a manifesto to, among others, Sirhan Sirhan. But just because it's ancient history doesn't mean you get to rewrite it to make yourself look good, just another idealistic young person upset about the war and racism. We were all upset about the war and racism. I knew people in the Progressive Labor Party who were so upset they joined the army to radicalize the troops. A freshman in my dorm was so upset she quit college, joined the October League, and went to organize in an auto-parts factory, where last I heard maybe a decade ago, she was still at work. Of the many thousands of people involved in the movement one way or another, only a handful thought the thing to do was to form a tiny sect and blow things up in the service of a ludicrous fantasy : ie, creating a white-youth fighting force that would join up with black nationalists, end the war and overthrow capitalism. Oh, and anyone who didn't see why that was the right,necessary and indeed only possible course of action was a sellout and a coward.

I wish Ayers would make a real apology for the harm he did to the antiwar movement and the left. Not another "regrets, I've had a few," "we were all young once," "don't forget there was a war on" exercise in self-promotion, but one that showed he actually gets it. I'd like him to say he's sorry for his part in the destruction of Students for a Democratic Society. He's sorry he helped Nixon make the antiwar movement look like the enemy of ordinary people. He's sorry for his more-radical-than-thou posturing, and the climate of apocalyptic nuttiness he helped fuel to disastrous results, of which the fatal Brinks robbery, committed by erstwhile comrades who became even crazier than Ayers' crew, was only the most notorious.

True, the damage wrought by the Weatherpeople is trivial compared with the war itself and has arguably been more thoroughly denounced. After all, John McCain most likely killed civilians while bombing Vietnam, and he got to run for president as a war hero. Henry Kissinger is fawned upon wherever he goes. I'd be happy to forget all about the Weatherpeople, many of whom have done good things with their lives since. But if we're going to talk about them-- and Ayers can't leave it alone-- let's tell the truth. Of all the sectarian groups from that era , Weather, in all its permutations, was the least effective and the most destructive to the movement. It was all about the romance of itself. And it still is.

Text Source: The Nation December 8, 2008

Image Source: Enter Stage Right

Monday, December 8, 2008

Did Obama Knowlingly Create His Own Norman Rockwell Myths?

Obama's Myths: Young Voters and Small Donors, Dick Morris And Eileen McGann December 1, 2008.

Myths in politics take on a life of their own and the Obama campaign has been quick to cloak its incredible electoral success with a new coat of mythology. Two fantasies, in particular, pervade the amazing triumph of the Obama candidacy: That young people propelled him to victory by finally voting in large numbers and that small donors financed his campaign.

Were either myth a reality, it would be big news. Ever since the voting age was dropped to 18, politicians have been waiting for young voters to rock the system. But turnout among the young has been consistently and disappointingly low. From the manifest enthusiasm for Obama on campuses and the mammoth crowds of young admirers he generated, it appeared that the moment for the young had finally come. In the primaries and caucuses, young people flocked to Obama’s bandwagon, often supplying his top heavy margins of victory in caucus states that propelled him to victory over Hillary.

But on Election Day, it did not happen. The Fox News/Opinion Data exit polling showed that the vote cast by people under thirty held steady at 11% of the total, the same level the organization’s 2004 exit polls had found. Edison Media Research/Mitofsky International found a higher proportion of the vote cast by 18-29 year olds — 18% — but, by the same methodology, the firm found the 2004 voter base was 17% composed of people in that age cohort. Whether the young cast 11% or 18% of the vote in 2008 makes little difference. The fact is that neither polling firm found any real increase from the levels they found four years ago.

The myth of the small donor is even more important. Most political observers did not attack Obama for his breaking of his pledge to accept public financing because of our belief that he was funding his campaign by a massive outpouring of small donations. We felt that he was single-handedly accomplishing campaign finance reform and did not mind that he opted out of the public system. Indeed, we cheered as he amassed a $600 million war chest as it signified the clout of the small donor and showed the vulnerability of the old fat cat/PAC network that others used to raise money.

But we were fooled by Obama’s propaganda. In a story by Fred Lucas, CNSNews reports that the Campaign Finance Institute (CFI) found that only 26% of the donors to Obama’s campaign gave $200 or less, compared to 25% for President Bush’s campaign in 2004. How did Obama fund his campaign? The old fashioned way, from fat cats. CFI found that he got 80% more money from large donors (over $1,000) than from those who gave less than $200. Obama did benefit from small donors slightly more than other campaigns, but not enough to make the historic statement it appeared at the time that was taking place. CFI notes that 47% of Obama’s total fund raising came from large donors, compared to 60% for McCain, 60% for Bush in 2004, and 56% for John Kerry. This trend represents a movement in the right direction, but hardly the revolution that has been mythologized.

These revealing stats are more than a footnote to history. They represent the denouement of a carefully cultivated myth. Obama sold America on the idea that his campaign was animated by hordes of small donors who we’re attracted online. It now appears that this line was nothing more than a convenient smoke screen to mask his dependence on the traditional forces that have always funded presidential campaigns. And it puts into a new perspective the massive amount Obama raised and his brazen reversal of his public pledge to accept the limits imposed by public financing of campaigns.

Now that we know that Obama funded his campaign the old way – from rich people and special interests – it is reprehensible that he did so to the tune of over $600 million. When it looked like he was using the money of small donors to buy the election, it was excusable. But now that it becomes clear that he was getting money the same way other politicians always have done so, his vast outspending of McCain, all based on his chicanery in not taking public financing, puts his victory into a sharply more negative light.

And the fact that he and his staff cultivated the myth of the small donor, even as they realized what a distortion it was and used the myth to cover their attempt to buy the White House with special interest funding, lends a decidedly cynical aspect to their triumph.

We were fooled.

Text Source: Dick Morris.Com Decmeber 1, 2008

Top and Bottom Images: Obama in Rockwell's Freedom of Speech and Obama in Rockwell's Doctor and Boy

Has Obama Picked A Cabinet That Favors Competence Over Ideology?

Liberals Voice Concerns About Obama, Carol E. Lee, Nia-Malika Henderson Carol E. Lee, Nia-malika Henderson, Yahoo News/Politico.Com, December 8, 2008.

Liberals are growing increasingly nervous – and some just flat-out angry – that President-elect Barack Obama seems to be stiffing them on Cabinet jobs and policy choices. Obama has reversed pledges to immediately repeal tax cuts for the wealthy and take on Big Oil. He’s hedged his call for a quick drawdown in Iraq. And he’s stocking his White House with anything but stalwarts of the left. Now some are shedding a reluctance to puncture the liberal euphoria at being rid of President George W. Bush to say, in effect, that the new boss looks like the old boss.

“He has confirmed what our suspicions were by surrounding himself with a centrist to right cabinet. But we do hope that before it's all over we can get at least one authentic progressive appointment,” said Tim Carpenter, national director of the Progressive Democrats of America. OpenLeft blogger Chris Bowers went so far as to issue this plaintive plea: “Isn't there ever a point when we can get an actual Democratic administration?” Even supporters make clear they’re on the lookout for backsliding. “There’s a concern that he keep his basic promises and people are going to watch him,” said Roger Hickey, a co-founder of Campaign for America’s Future.

Obama insists he hasn’t abandoned the goals that made him feel to some like a liberal savior. But the left’s bill of particulars against Obama is long, and growing. Obama drew rousing applause at campaign events when he vowed to tax the windfall profits of oil companies. As president-elect, Obama says he won’t enact the tax. Obama’s pledge to repeal the Bush tax cuts and redistribute that money to the middle class made him a hero among Democrats who said the cuts favored the wealthy. But now he’s struck a more cautious stance on rolling back tax cuts for people making over $250,000 a year, signaling he’ll merely let them expire as scheduled at the end of 2010.

Obama’s post-election rhetoric on Iraq and choices for national security team have some liberal Democrats even more perplexed. As a candidate, Obama defined and separated himself from his challengers by highlighting his opposition to the war in Iraq from the start. He promised to begin to end the war on his first day in office. Now Obama’s says that on his first day in office he will begin to “design a plan for a responsible drawdown,” as he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday. Obama has also filled his national security positions with supporters of the Iraq war: Sen. Hillary Clinton, who voted to authorize force in Iraq, as his secretary of state; and President George W. Bush’s defense secretary, Robert Gates, continuing in the same role.

The central premise of the left’s criticism is direct – don’t bite the hand that feeds, Mr. President-elect. The Internet that helped him so much during the election is lighting up with irritation and critiques. “There don't seem to be any liberals in Obama's cabinet,” writes John Aravosis, the editor of “What does all of this mean for Obama's policies, and just as important, Obama Supreme Court announcements?”

“Actually, it reminds me a bit of the campaign, at least the beginning and the middle, when the Obama campaign didn't seem particularly interested in reaching out to progressives,” Aravosis continues. “Once they realized that in order to win they needed to marshal everyone on their side, the reaching out began. I hope we're not seeing a similar ‘we can do it alone’ approach in the transition team.” This isn’t the first liberal letdown over Obama, who promptly angered the left after winning the Democratic primary by announcing he backed a compromise that would allow warrantless wiretapping on U.S. soil to continue. Now it’s Obama’s Cabinet moves that are drawing the most fire. It’s not just that he’s picked Clinton and Gates. It’s that liberal Democrats say they’re hard-pressed to find one of their own on Obama’s team so far – particularly on the economic side, where people like Tim Geithner and Lawrence Summers are hardly viewed as pro-labor. “At his announcement of an economic team there was no secretary of labor. If you don’t think the labor secretary is on the same level as treasury secretary, that gives me pause,” said Jonathan Tasini, who runs the website “The president-elect wouldn't be president-elect without labor."

During the campaign Obama gained labor support by saying he favored legislation that would make it easier for unions to form inside companies. The “card check” bill would get rid of a secret-ballot method of voting to form a union and replace it with a system that would require companies to recognize unions simply if a majority of workers signed cards saying they want one. Obama still supports that legislation, aides say – but union leaders are worried that he no longer talks it up much as president-elect. “It's complicated,” said Tasini, who challenged Clinton for Senate in 2006. “On the one hand, the guy hasn't even taken office yet so it's a little hasty to be criticizing him. On the other hand, there is legitimate cause for concern. I think people are still waiting but there is some edginess about this.”

That’s a view that seems to have kept some progressive leaders holding their fire. There are signs of a struggle within the left wing of the Democratic Party about whether it’s just too soon to criticize Obama -- and if there’s really anything to complain about just yet. Case in point: One of the Campaign for America’s Future blogs commented on Obama’s decision not to tax oil companies’ windfall profits saying, “Between this move and the move to wait to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, it seems like the Obama team is buying into the right-wing frame that raising any taxes - even those on the richest citizens and wealthiest corporations - is bad for the economy.”
Yet Campaign for America’s Future will join about 150 progressive organizations, economists and labor groups to release a statement Tuesday in support of a large economic stimulus package like the one Obama has proposed, said Hickey, a co-founder of the group. “I’ve heard the most grousing about the windfall profits tax, but on the other hand, Obama has committed himself to a stimulus package that makes a down payment on energy efficiency and green jobs,” Hickey said. “The old argument was, here’s how we afford to make these investments – we tax the oil companies’ windfall profits. … The new argument is, in a bad economy that could get worse, we don’t.”

Obama is asking for patience – saying he’s only shifting his stance on some issues because circumstances are shifting. Aides say he backed off the windfall profits tax because oil prices have dropped below $80 a barrel. Obama also defended hedging on the Bush tax cuts. “My economic team right now is examining, do we repeal that through legislation? Do we let it lapse so that, when the Bush tax cuts expire, they're not renewed when it comes to wealthiest Americans?” Obama said on “Meet the Press.” “We don't yet know what the best approach is going to be.”

On Iraq, he says he’s just trying to make sure any U.S. pullout doesn’t ignite “any resurgence of terrorism in Iraq that could threaten our interests.” Obama has told his supporters to look beyond his appointments, that the change he promised will come from him and that when his administration comes together they will be happy. “I think that when you ultimately look at what this advisory board looks like, you'll say this is a cross-section of opinion that in some ways reinforces conventional wisdom, in some ways breaks with orthodoxy in all sorts of way,” Obama recently said in response to questions about his appointments during a news conference on the economy. The leaders of some liberal groups are willing to wait and see.

“He hasn’t had a first day in office,” said John Isaacs, the executive director for Council for Livable World. “To me it’s not as important as who’s there, than what kind of policies they carry out.” “These aren’t out-and-out liberals on the national security team, but they may be successful implementers of what the Obama national security policy is,” Isaacs added. “We want to see what policies are carried forward, as opposed to appointments.”

Juan Cole, who runs a prominent anti-war blog called Informed Comment, said he worries Obama will get bad advice from Clinton on the Middle East, calling her too pro-Israel and “belligerent” toward Iran. “But overall, my estimation is that he has chosen competence over ideology, and I'm willing to cut him some slack,” Cole said. Other voices of the left don’t like what they’re seeing so far and aren’t waiting for more before they speak up.

New York Times columnist Frank Rich warned that Obama’s economic team of Summers and Geithner reminded him of John F. Kennedy’s “best and the brightest” team, who blundered in Vietnam despite their blue-chip pedigrees. David Corn, Washington bureau chief of the liberal magazine Mother Jones, wrote in Sunday’s Washington Post that he is “not yet reaching for a pitchfork.” But the headline of his op-ed sums up his point about Obama’s Cabinet appointments so far: “This Wasn’t Quite the Change We Envisioned.”

Text Source: Yahoo News/Politico

Top Image: Obama Smoking

Middle Image: Obama-Clinton Team

Bottom Image: Beating A Dead Horse

Friday, December 5, 2008

$745 Million From 4 Million Donors And About 3 Million Gave $200 Or More?

Obama Stimulus: Campaign Hits $745 Million Haul, Jim Kuhnhenn and Jim Drinkard, Associated Press, December 3, 1008.

Barack Obama, who rewrote the book on presidential fundraising, amassed more than $745 million during his marathon campaign, more than twice the amount obtained by his rival, Republican John McCain. In his latest finance report, Obama reported raising $104 million in more than five weeks immediately before and after Election Day. It was his second biggest fundraising period and a fitting coda to a successful presidential bid that shattered fundraising records. In the end, Obama still had $30 million left over.

Overall, Obama exceeded the combined finances of the two major parties' nominees four years ago. George W. Bush and John Kerry pulled in a total of $653 million in the 2004 primary and general election campaigns, including federal public financing money. Obama's prowess at attracting money, one of the many characteristics that defined his campaign, could well spell the end of a 30-year experiment in public financing of presidential contests.

After initially vowing to take public funds if McCain did, Obama became the first presidential candidate since the campaign finance reforms of the 1970s to raise private donations during the general election. The final numbers underscore how pivotal the two candidates' strategies were for funding their general election campaigns: McCain accepted $84 million in taxpayer money through the public financing system; Obama gambled that he could raise far more from private money.

The two campaigns spent identical amounts in June, $25.6 million each. But from there the numbers diverged widely in September and October when the Obama financial juggernaut swamped McCain. By the end, the Democrat was outspending his rival four to one. The reports submitted by the campaigns on Thursday covered the period from Oct. 15 to Nov. 24. McCain relied heavily on the Republican National Committee to help narrow the financial discrepancy. But even with the party resources Obama had a vast money advantage.

The party committee couldn't escape one of its most awkward moments of the campaign. After spending nearly $150,000 on clothing and accessories for McCain's running mate Sarah Palin in September, the party reported spending more than $23,000 in additional accessories in the latest finance document. The spending ranged from $4,384 at Saks Fifth Ave. to $2,130 at Nieman Marcus to small purchases at Wal-Mart and CVS. Party spokesman Alex Conant said Thursday that the expenditures listed in the party's October and December reports "were the result of coordinated expenditures at the campaign's direction." "Accessories have been returned, inventoried, and will be appropriately dispersed to various charities," Conant said.

The RNC reported raising $75 million during the latest reporting period. Overall this year, the party committee raised $322 million. It ended with $13.5 million cash on hand. The Democratic National Committee reported raising $36.5 million in its latest filing, for a total of $186 million for the year. The party had $8.7 million cash on hand, but it also reported owing $5 million on a line of credit. Obama's campaign said nearly 4 million donors contributed to his campaign.

But while Obama has made much of his large number of donors, the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute found that Obama collected about 26 percent of his total haul from people who gave less than $200 — about the same as President George W. Bush did in his 2004 campaign.

And like other campaigns, Obama's relied for nearly half of its fundraising on big donors, those who gave $1,000 or more, a finding that "should make one think twice before describing small donors as the financial engine of the Obama campaign," the institute reported.

Obama reported having nearly $30 million in the bank at the end of the reporting period and nearly $600,000 in debts. McCain reported $4 million in the bank, nearly $5 million in debts and $1 million owed to the campaign committee. McCain also filed a report for a compliance fund, used to cover expenses associated with his acceptance of public funds. He reported $25 million left over in that account.

Text Source: Yahoo News

Image Source: Itech

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Is Obama's Small Donor Base A Myth?

Obama's Small Donor Base Image Is A Myth, New Study Reveals, Andrew Malcolm, Los Angeles Times website, November 28, 2008.

Everybody knows how President-elect Barack Obama's amazing campaign money machine was dominated by several million regular folks sending in hard-earned amounts under $200, a real sign of his broadbased grassroots support. Except, it turns out, that's not really true.

In fact, Obama's base of small donors was almost exactly the same percent as George W. Bush's in 2004 -- Obama had 26% and the great Republican satan 25%. Obviously, this is unacceptable to current popular thinking. But the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute just issued a detailed study of Obama's donor base and its giving. And that's what the Institute found, to its own surprise. "The myth is that money from small donors dominated Barack Obama's finances," said CFI's executive director Michael Malbin, admitting that his organization also was fooled. "The reality of Obama's fundraising was impressive, but the reality does not match the myth."

Adding up the total contributions from the same small individuals (in terms of dollar amounts, not their height), the Institute discovered that rather than the 50+% commonly reported throughout the campaign, only 26% of Obama's contributions through last August and only 24% through Oct. 15 came from people whose total donations added up to less than $200. The key word there being "total."

It comes down to which definition of "small donor" you accept:

Someone who donated to the Obama campaign by scraping together $199, period.

Or someone who donated $199 to the Obama campaign several times, perhaps totaling close to the $4,600 legal limit for the primary and general elections. In aggregate, that would vault him/her out of the small donor category that was so useful to the political campaign's public relations campaign portraying the donor base as about two times as broad as it really was.

The reported numbers show that Obama actually received 80% more money from large donors (those giving $1,000 or more total) than from small donors. Through the Democratic National Convention, the Institute estimates, Obama received $119 million from genuine small donors, an impressive sum, to be sure. But not as impressive as the $210 million he'd raised by then from bundlers and large donors.

"After a more thorough analysis of data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC)," the CFI study says, "it has become clear that repeaters and large donors were even more important for Obama than we or other analysts had fully appreciated." Now, we'll see how broad-based news coverage of this real reality is.

The author: Andrew Malcolm's immigrant parents repeatedly stressed the importance of active participation in a democracy. Early lessons included learning the alphabetical list of states by watching televised roll calls of national political conventions. That childhood exposure led to a lifelong fascination with politics, including 40-plus years of covering them and a brief stint practicing them as press secretary to Laura Bush in 1999-2000.

A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Malcolm served on the Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four.

Text Source: Los Angeles Times, November 28, WWWsite

Photo Source: Associated Press, appeared in the same LA Times weblog.