Political Deformity

A Handshake of Carbon Monoxide

Is Obama Fighting Back?

There’s an article up over at The American Prospect arguing that yes, Barack Obama actually is playing hardball this campaign season–so nail-biting liberals should relax. The article’s author, Tim Fernholz, points out that Obama hasn’t acted like Kerry 2.0–that is, he hasn’t taken it in the tuchus from low-down, dirty smearers like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (or, in this case, the low-down, dirty McCain campaign).

This is actually true. The Obama campaign has done a pretty good job of juggling the two primary reactions that you need to play up when an opponent starts playing dirty–and make no mistake, the McCain campaign is playing dirty, suggesting that Obama wants to pervert children and “destroy” Palin as a person. The two responses are (1) righteous indignation and (2) aggressive retaliation.

The Obama camp actually does #1 really well: it turns unapologetic outrage into great political momentum, something Kerry couldn’t do in 2004. Sure, Kerry decried the dirty pool of the Swiftboaters and such, but his campaign never packed the punch you need to turn outrage into momentum, because it never really took the initiative to frame the campaign debate. From day one, Kerry ran as the guy who wasn’t Bush (this is true: one of Kerry’s top campaign advisors talked with me at a bag lunch during an internship back then, and explicitly said that the Kerry campaign strategy was “to be the alternative to Bush.”) In doing so, he limited his ability to turn outrage into something more, something tied into his campaign narrative.

But Obama and Biden, these guys are running on something more. They don’t just want to not be Bush, they are insisting that this country be understood, governed, and engaged with in a much different way than it has been over the past eight years. Thus when the GOP tries to slap them around, they don’t just refute the specific claims, like Kerry did, but they use these instances as representative examples, symptomatic of Republican corruption, selfishness, and failure.

Consider Biden’s recent condemnation of Republicans’ unwillingness to talk about issues and their obsession with character assasination.

This is powerful stuff–why? Because it’s not personal outrage, it’s political outrage–it’s anger that’s entirely consistent with the message of the Obama-Biden campaign. Continue reading


September 11, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John McCain | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Barack and Biden on “60 Minutes” Part II

So here’s Part II of the 60 Minutes interview (Part I is below). Again, pay attention to the way that Obama and Biden interact–very natural, very authentic. Something that struck me in this interview is how well Obama deals with answering questions that, before a lesser politician, would be an invitation to disaster.

In Part I, 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft said that Obama was trying really hard to appeal to blue collar voters by drinking beer, which he “doesn’t even like,” and bowling. These are the type of ridiculous comments that invite politicians to step on their own toes. You can imagine a candidate, shocked by Kroft’s suggestion that he’s not a man of the people, laying his folksiness on way too thick here: “Steve, I love beer. Drink it all the time. Nothing more American than a big, cold brew. And I love bowling. I bowl all the time. I’m an avid bowler.”

Bam! Suddenly you have a clip of the “liberal elitist” clumsily trying to assert his folksiness–something Republicans can point to as proof that Obama is a phony snob, a la John Kerry’s 2003 cheese-steak fiasco.

But Obama doesn’t fall for it. He brushes off the question (“where do you get this stuff?”) and points out the the bowling was about “campaigning” and “having some fun” (imagine that!). Essentially, he offers a common sense response to the kind of ridiculous campaign-season question that we see all too much of nowadays. He simply acts–wait for it–reasonable. And sadly, in American politics, that’s an accomplishment.

Obama is similarly level-headed when, in Part II below. Kroft asks him why he’s not doing better in the polls, given how unpopular the Bush Administration and Republicans in general have become. Here Obama could have decried McCain’s dirty campaigning or offered an empty political platitude (“November is far away”). But instead, he gives a thoughtful answer about how Americans “want to get this right.” This is a good, classy answer to the toughest answer a candidate can face: “why aren’t you winning?”

I know people nail Obama for being aloof, but really, I’m a big fan of the fact that he manages to understand how much of politics–and political coverage–is reckless goading. I don’t want a president who’s going to take the bait every time.

September 2, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, Democrats, Joe Biden, Media Coverage | , , , , | 2 Comments

Barack and Biden on “60 Minutes” Part I

If you haven’t seen the clips of Barack/Biden on 60 Minutes, I’m posting them here, with some commentary. Part I is below, Part II to follow.

Watching this interview, my overriding thought was this: I really like the way that Obama and Biden interact. They seem genuinely friendly with one another, and also have a good fire & ice thing going, what with Obama’s serenity and Biden’s bluster. The one word that I would use to define the Obama/Biden dynamic would be “complementary”–not just as candidates, but also as potential colleagues. They just click.

This isn’t something we see that often in Prez/VP dynamics. In recent years, Republican presidential candidates have picked stooges (Quayle, Palin) or evil geniuses (Cheney). Jack Kemp was neither, but he and Bob Dole were antagonists–as Time magazine pointed out in 1996, Kemp was “partly responsible for the single most painful political betrayal in Dole’s life.” The point is this: the GOP President-Vice President dynamic has always had a deep undercurrent of artificiality to it. They’re rarely collaborations between two like-minded equals.

Democrats have tended to be less extreme in the extent to which they plug in a polarizing VP, but there’s some definite incongruity between Presidents and VPs on the Dem side as well. Kerry and Edwards always had a strained relationship, and that awkwardness came through in their campaigning. And it’s hard to imagine two people who’d relate to each other less than smooth Bill Clinton and dour Al Gore.

But Obama and Biden really seem to be on the same wavelength. Obviously, all presidential tickets are a marriage of political convenience, at least to some extent. But I like seeing this kind of instinctive harmony between a President and his Vice President.

The ease and comfort with which Obama and Biden interact is particularly striking in contrast to McCain, who has partnered up with someone who he met all of three times before choosing as VP. The fact that McCain feels the need to make clumsy assertions that Palin is his “partner and soulmate” really drives home how inorganic that political union really is.

September 2, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, Democrats, Joe Biden, John McCain, Media Coverage, Republicans, Sarah Palin | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sloppy Seconds/Timing Is Everything

Question: if the order of the conventions had been reversed–i.e. if the Republicans had preceded the Democrats–would we be seeing Sarah Palin on McCain’s ticket?

We all know that Palin was something of an impulsive choice. The Politico story I link to in my previous post notes that “McCain only spoke with Palin about the vice presidency for the first time on Sunday…and was seriously considering Lieberman until days ago.” And according to many reports, McCain had spoken to Palin all of two times–ever–before making her his VP pick. It’s also important to consider the timing of McCain’s VP announcement: after Obama’s DNC speech which pulled in an historic 40 million viewers. The point here was, of course, to steal Obama’s thunder and produce headlines like this one, claiming that “Obama loses spotlight.”

Outside of Palin’s supeficial demographic appeal as a socially conservative female, it really seems that there’s an element of conscious shock value to McCain’s pick. Though it would take well-connected Beltway insiders to really confirm or refute this, I would guess that the McCain campaign saw momentum building throughout the DNC and said “oh crap, we need to make a splash in order to steal the show” (excuse the mixed metaphor). Enter Palin. But if the GOP had held their shindig before the Democrats, there wouldn’t be such pressure to match Democratic interia.

Continue reading

August 30, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, Democrats, Joe Biden, John McCain, Republicans, Sarah Palin | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A New Low for Fox

Over at Mother Jones blog, there’s a Fox News screen grab you have to see to believe.

August 29, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Media Coverage | , , , | Leave a comment

Biden Not That Bad

Even the Canadians are noting that Biden bungled some key parts of his DNC speech last night:

But nervous, perhaps, he stumbled several times, misreading the teleprompter as he addressed a pumped audience still high on Bill Clinton’s exhortations to unite behind Obama.

He dropped “McCain” in his critique of the “Bush-McCain” foreign policy. He said 150 more parents have health care in Illinois because of Obama’s work, instead of 150,000; he said McCain proposes $200 million instead of “$200 billion” more in new corporate tax breaks and he said America needed a leader “who can change,” instead of “deliver change.”

Yeah, Biden garbled his words a little bit, and of course it’s hard to say that an imperfectly delivered speech has the same impact it would have had if the orator had nailed the presentation. But I don’t agree with commentators like Chuck Todd (MSNBC) and Jeff Toobin (CNN) who think the speech was a flop. Continue reading

August 28, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, Democrats, Joe Biden, John McCain, Republicans, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment