Saturday, January 17, 2009

Why Obama Won - By Sherwin Hughes

I've been playing this game for a long time. I have never seen an offense like this one. The formations they used were simply unorthodox. As the plays began to unfold this team marched down the field and defeated each of their opponents one by one—including the previous national champion Clintons (John Edwards ultimately penalized himself out of contention). Election by election, they took state championships in places no one ever imagined. Iowa is one huge political football state—the string of victories started there. Those states, now marked by the hue of blue, were enough to crown a new champion in this game that can only be described as larger than the super bowl.

The Obama presidential campaign was nothing short of a phenomenon. This "Obamanon" will be the subject of study for political professionals for many years to come.

It is impossible to describe this campaign without the mention of the very basic intrinsic value of hope. It was the overarching theme throughout the campaign. When a charismatic figure is able to do more than talk, but inspire, you have the trappings of something incredible. Bill Clinton, also a charismatic figure, did little to kindle the American spirit in the same ways as Barack Obama. There are things that are simply intangible about Barack Obama as a man.

He is the combination of what divides America. He is as black and he is white. He stands a man in, and of, racial contrast. Ultimately, nothing can unite more than the very things that divide. He is, remarkably, every American. In his books he reveals his angst, his uncertain identity, and even his drug use. There is little about this man that people can't relate to. For those who tout "he's not black" or "he's not black enough" I offer you Michelle Obama and his beautiful daughters. These black women are the final and ultimate justification of this great man.

In the universe of campaigns, the candidate, sometimes, is of the least importance. For it is the organization and the message therein that will assume the momentum. Obama had the luxury of both.

The selection process to be a paid staffer in the campaign was unlike any I had ever before witnessed. In democratic presidential campaigns, we often start with the usual suspects. Individuals from organized labor, the slue of activists, (women's rights, environmentalists, GLBT, etc.) after that, campaigns are usually honored to take whoever else is willing—and sympathetic.

This campaign was exceptionally different. Not just seasoned political professions (only of a specific pedigree) but lawyers, PhD's of all sorts, master degreed professionals, and graduate students alike surrendered their lives of upward mobility and academia to join this movement.

This campaign was damn smart, Ivy League smart by design. I mean that literally.

Some of my most seasoned colleagues in campaign politics, people who do this to feed their families, people whom I worked and trained side by side were not paid staff of the Obama campaign. That was on purpose.

Some of us, like it or not, represented the old way—politics as usual. That Clinton way, that Kerry way was not how this thing was going to work.

I can recall the days when GOTV was a campaign bedding down in a minority community three weeks before an election with a big bag of money (clearly before the party-pooping McCain-Feingold Act). The "Obamanon" stood in antithesis of such antiquated ways. Instead of political professionals who expect payola, some of us were replaced with ordinary people. Ordinary people who were so inspired that they sought to volunteer. Imagine that. A campaign made overwhelmingly by people who were so inspired that they willingly walked their own communities, talking to their neighbors, friends, and family about the message of hope and change. The longer you think about it the more apparent the genius becomes.

Then of course, there's the money.

I liken right-wing conservative donors to gamblers. These poker players, drunk on their own hubris and wealth, are sitting down to a game of presidential stud, hold 'em or betting on horses at the track. The max buy-in is a cool $2,300. Their hands contain a peculiar set of face-cards—which include: Joe "The Plumber's", Sarah "The Palin's", and John "The McCain's". Those who previously held Rudy "The Giuliani's" and Mike "The Huckabee's" folded pretty early.

Those hands would ultimately be trumped. Millions of ordinary people sat down at that high stakes presidential poker game. The same people who haven't been invited to play for the last 8 years, and arguably the last 200, seated themselves with confidence at this exclusive backroom game. They pooled their $5 and $10 chips, raised, re-raised and splashed the pot. The cards were dealt face up and revealed a beautiful royal flush which consisted of the face cards of disenfranchised Americans, war veterans, and jobless individuals.

There were great complexities that existed within this campaign—the details of which we will be sorting for the next two decades. To the dismay of some, Obama was not farmed, and exclusively cultivated by the Black community. However, everything seemed to work. From NOT picking Senator Clinton as VP, to unleashing Biden only where his off the cuff style would be prudent, was the work of intellect and intention and not ignorance.

This was an airtight, largely gaffe-free campaign. So slick in its rhetoric, that the critics of Jeremiah Wright disappeared into obscurity.

The organization was foxy, cunning, and mostly free of missteps. The many financial contributions were obtained from a wide and exceptionally diverse constituency, making them seemingly unlimited. Most importantly, this campaign inspired us so much and kindled our spirits. In fact, the hope spilled out into the entire world. From goat herders in Africa to the cobblestone streets of Western Europe, we heard the world simultaneously shout "Yes We Can".

On a fateful day in November, America matured from her adolescence and blossomed into a woman. She now stands a beautiful woman who has begun overcoming her previously prejudicial ways.

There are some who are so obstinate to change that they only consult their grandmothers for advice.

They lost this time.

Then there are others whose sun was replaced by an "O" rising at dawn. They, this time, were the victors. God bless our new president and God bless America.

Do you agree or disagree with Sherwin? Be sure to leave a comment!

Sherwin Hughes is the Principal and Chief Strategist at STH & Associates, LLC - a political consulting firm in Milwaukee, WI. He is also a former Chair of the Wisconsin State Elections Board and has directed several community organizations.

Friday, January 16, 2009

On His Way Out

With only four days left until President-Elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office, here is what we are looking at.

President George W. Bush gives his farewell address to the nation.

Chris Matthews and
Arianna Huffington give their analyses of the speech. analyzes how Bush will go down in history.

Finally, Bush's White House staff makes their
exit in preparation for a new President.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Why Obama Won - By Derrick Shapley

The reason Obama won can be boiled down to four main reasons. The first reason is Howard Dean. When Howard Dean’s campaign ended its members did not leave the Democratic Party but became an integral part of it. Creating and maintaining blogs that challenged the right wing media of talk radio, Fox news, the Wall Street Journal and others.

No longer could the right wing go unchallenged in the media with its often-unfounded allegations of Democratic candidates being either elitist, who are out of touch with the American public or calling Democrats immoral and godless. Anytime there was an allegation by the right wing media the blogs and other form of Internet media was there to counter the allegation, which was then disseminated through traditional media outlets.

Another way Howard Dean helped Obama was when he became chairman of the Democratic Party he created the fifty state strategy. Democrats were no longer going to cede parts of the country to Republicans. This led to Obama challenging every state in both the primary and the general election.

In the primary fighting in caucus states that were small and that Hillary thought were not worth fighting in and in the general fighting in states such as Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia, states that used to be hostile to Democratic presidential candidates and winning. If it wasn’t for the fact that both Howard Dean and Barack Obama saw that Democrats had to expand the electoral map Democrats may still be in the minority in congress.

The second reason Obama won is because the American public was tired of not only Republican Party ideology but also there campaign tactics. In this election the tired old traditions of the Republican Party in branding people Liberals and tax and spenders didn’t work.

With the problems of the economy, social issues within the campaign became almost irrelevant. We heard almost nothing on gay marriage, abortion rights, gun control, and other wedge issues this campaign cycle. Republicans and even Hillary tried to make wedge issues throughout the campaign with Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright but combined with McCain’s lack of enthusiasm about those issues and the American public’s distaste with this sort of politics of association these wedge issues did not succeed in the last election.

The third reason Obama won was because of the McCain campaign itself, like Dr. Shober said before me. McCain’s campaign made three crucial mistakes. First, it thought it could win on McCain’s record as a Prisoner of War, Senator, and as a reformer of campaign finance without offering much in the way of any ideas about what to do about the future. The McCain campaign set up a campaign theme that rarely acknowledged issues and, in which even their campaign manager Rick Davis declared, “This election is not about issues.” Unfortunately for the McCain campaign this election became about issues like fixing the economy, and restoring our standing around the world.

When the McCain campaign attacked Obama with almost trivial and sometimes disgusting advertising it went over like a lead balloon with the American public. Every reputable poll conducted during and after the election showed the American public viewed the campaign ran by McCain as negative.

The second mistake by McCain was to nominate Sarah Palin for Vice President. This took away McCain’s argument about experience. McCain was arguing that people should vote for him because of experience but then put somebody who was a heartbeat away from the presidency who had never been on a national stage before. The majority of America did not view Palin as experienced and after the pick Obama always could counter the experience angle with Palin. Palin herself did not do McCain many favors.

Yes, she did energize the conservative base, however this was at the expense of alienating moderates and even conservative democrats. Her lack of ability to address questions in interviews brought to the American public memories of a soon to be former president and her polarizing effect on voters was not the message McCain needed when people were wanting something to get done in Washington and to move away from this era of partisanship.

The third mistake McCain made was saying, “The fundamentals of our economy are strong.” After he said this and then a week or two later suspending his campaign and coming back to Washington the American public perceived him as not understanding what is going on in our economy. They viewed him as out of touch with economic issues and were really something McCain could never recover from.

The fourth reason Obama won was because of a certain person in the White House named George W. Bush. I could go over the list of failures of this administration but it would be too long to count. The bottom line is the American public lost confidence in the government’s ability to deal with major crises and the party in charge was the Republican Party so the people who get the blame are going to be Republicans. The almost abysmal favorability ratings of Bush was like a cloud that stood over the entire Republican party this election cycle and one from which they could not recover.

Do you agree or disagree with Derrick? Be sure to leave a comment!

Derrick Shapley is a graduate student in sociology at Mississippi State University. He has formerly worked for numerous campaigns across the country as a field operative.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

GOP to Make Confirmations More Difficult

Several Senate confirmation hearings have gone smoothly for President-Elect Barack Obama's proposed cabinet. Former Senate Minority Leader - and incoming Secretary of Health and Human Services - Tom Daschle (D-SD) had no real troubles. Sen. Hilary Clinton (D-NY) seemingly breezed through her hearings for appointment as Secretary of State, and even got some good press. Even Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-CA) made it through her hearings relatively easily, despite Republican reservations about the Employee Free Choice Act.

However, two confirmations are becoming more controversial by the day as GOP Senators look to derail bipartisan support of the incoming administration.

The first is for Obama's Attorney General pick, Eric Holder. Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are preparing to question him about his 1999 support of clemency for Puerto Rican nationalists that bombed a New York City tavern in 1975. They will also hammer him for his positions on Second Amendment rights, and his support of President Clinton's 2001 pardon of Marc Rich - an issue they have pushed for over a month.

Ranking minority member Arlen Specter (R-PA) will bring Joseph Connor - whose father was killed in the 1975 bombing - to testify against Holder, along with Rick Hahn - who investigated the extremist organization responsible - and a pro-gun rights attorney, Stephen Halbrook of Virginia.

The GOP will also oppose hearings for Treasury Secretary nominee Tim Geithner due to revelations of previously unpaid back taxes and his housekeeper's work permit problems. Although the bulk of the controversy is fairly mute, the Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee want to see it get more air time.

In both cases, the GOP hopes to embarrass the President-Elect in the media - which will work especially well if they can use these controversies to derail the appointments.

As we have mentioned before, the Republican Party seems to be confused about whether or not to offer the President-Elect their support. Some have the philosophy that "when the President succeeds, America succeeds" and (more importantly) do not want to seem hyper-partisan. Others want to play to their base and stay critical of Obama at every possible corner. This confusion can be seen in the progress of the current confirmations.

Republicans certainly have the right to be critical of the Democratic administration - and they certainly have the right to offer Obama bipartisan support. But in order for their party to be effective in Congress they need to ask themselves "exactly what are our goals?" And they need to find an answer soon.

In yet another sign of confussion, Republican Senators have now agreed to conduct hearings for Geithner on January 21st.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why Obama Won – By Scott Simpson

Barack Obama will become President of the United States later this month having won the popular vote and Electoral College by significant margins. How did the same "center right" country that elected George W. Bush twice, and according to Karl Rove was on the cusp of a permanent Republican majority, vote so overwhelmingly for a black guy with a funny name who had been a measly state senator just 6 years prior? There were four factors that ultimately contributed to Obama's success:

Raw Talent: At his core, Barack Obama is a political savant with a unique perspective and understanding of American culture. While I believe that virtually any of the mainstream Democratic candidates probably could have won the general election in 2008, Obama's natural ability to comprehend the dynamics of both the primary and general electorate helped him beat both Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Whether it was speeches after primary victories in Iowa, South Carolina and North Carolina and during Reverend Wrightgate, or his performance during the economic collapse, Obama seemed to naturally adjust the tone and tenor of his message to communicate exactly the right thing at the right time. One can argue that eight years of George W. Bush may have created the perfect storm for Obama's particular set of political skills, but like my tenth grade basketball coach told me, "If the talent's not there, the talent's not there."

A Near Perfectly Executed Campaign: Simply placing a talented individual into a situation does not guarantee success (See: Michael Jordan pre-Phil Jackson) the other players still need to do their part. While Obama should get credit for bringing in the right people and using his political talent to generate enough money to pay for the whole thing, all members involved in the Obama campaign team deserve high praise for execution. Both the primary and the general election offer vivid examples of just a damn well run campaign. By focusing on caucuses instead of big state primaries Team Obama derailed what many considered an unstoppable Clinton Machine. In the general election consider the differences between Obama's well orchestrated process for selecting Joe Biden, compared to McCain's dysfunctional process for picking Sara Palin which was more akin to a reality television show, which admittedly had a fascinating first episode, but ended up giving voters the same disgusted/freaked out feeling they got from Trashelle in the Real World Las Vegas.

Mo Money, Less Problems: Beyond execution, Obama's massive financial advantage obviously gave him an overwhelming advantage down the stretch —no one has ever suffered from a 2 to 1 advantage in paid media. In the late summer many voters were still unfamiliar and somewhat skeptical of Obama, but by early-October he had sealed the deal. The increase in Obama's favorable ratings in polling was quite dramatic and could have only been achieved by using television advertising to reinforce his best attributes. Television advertising makes up the bulk of the modern campaign budget, but having ample resources means you also don't have to skimp in other places. Obama's ground game was indeed well funded and well executed. Multiple phone calls, along with canvassing and thousands of volunteers drove supporters to the polls and may have made the difference in some close states

Friendly Democratic Map: George W. Bush may have made it easier for a Democrat to win in 2008, but there is no way to deny that the modern electoral math favors Democrats, a pattern that should continue for some time. In both of George W. Bush's victories in 2000 and 2004, one change in the Electoral College would have given the race to Al Gore or John Kerry. There are simply too many solid blue Democratic electoral votes in the modern map for Republicans to easily overcome. Much of this "new math" is due to the country's changing demographics. Republicans are simply not winning in states populated with any significant minority populations, outside of the Deep South. Additionally their success in the South may actually be alienating the party from white voters in other parts of the country.

The combination of a once in lifetime political talent, backed by a well financed, well executed campaign helped put Barack Obama over the top, and helped America say "Thanks, but no thanks," to John McCain and Sarah Palin. What should be heartening for Democrats however is that even in the year where our self destructive nature seemed to temporarily dissipate, the changing makeup of America has made it very difficult for the party of Jefferson to lose. While I won't get all Rovian and say that this is the beginning of a permanent majority for Democrats, it's going to take some serious changes in order for Republicans to regain control of the White House in the near future.

Do you agree or disagree with Scott? Be sure to leave a comment!

Scott Simpson is a political consultant at Hamilton Campaigns in Washington DC. He has experience as an analyst conducting focus group research and developing political software. He also has a particular interest in helping minority candidates win tough seats and helping clients understand the cultural differences and dynamics of minority communities.