Saturday, September 08, 2012

Weekend Updates

Saturday: President Obama expands his lead in three tracking polls, with leads of 4 points in Reuters and Gallup.  To achieve this, he has gotten a bump of from 7 to 9 points since Wednesday at the DNC.  But the full convention won't be figured into these polls until the next one.

Meanwhile, according to the Princeton Election Consortium, Romney got a negative bounce out of the GOP convention.

Andrew Sullivan (who works weekends) thinks this might be major.

Gallup also calculated a major uptick in economic confidence of 17 points, but since it wasn't associated with any particular event, it remains something to watch rather than something to totally believe.

Sunday: Andrew Sullivan adds further evidence of an Obama surge based on the DNC.  He believes this is the first real change in the presidential race.  He notes that Nate Silver again repeats what others have observed: President Obama still has never really been behind.  What's left for the coming week is to see if the bounce continues and is reflected in other polls.  And then in a week or so, whether the lead remains.  It would be unusual if the race didn't tighten again, especially in October.  But the narrative so far could become that voters started having doubts about Romney over the summer, and the DNC made Obama seem like the better--and safer--choice.

There's something else reflected in the Reuters poll.  Obama leads in most categories: intelligence, eloquence, personality, etc.  But he has consistently led in many such categories, especially in personal appeal, but also overwhelming was the choice when voters were asked who they thought would win the election.  It may be that the convention has started giving people permission to leave reflexive GOPer choice and say they favor the guy they think is going to win.

The Obama campaign passed 700,000 donors over the DNC week. 

Finally, these two photos are being widely reprinted, both from Sunday.  Also an exchange President Obama had with a boy who said he was born in Hawaii.  "Born in Hawaii?  Do you have a birth certificate?"

This very big man who owns this pizza shop was so excited by having the President drop in that he lifted him off the ground.  The Secret Service told him it was okay to lift the President, as long as he didn't take him anywhere.

Joe Biden seems to have a way with the biker ladies, but not necessary the biker guys.

Friday, September 07, 2012

The Beat Goes On

The very first indicator is very positive: President Obama's approval rating in the Gallup poll jumped to 52%, a seven to nine point surge, depending on when you start measuring.  The data covers only part of the Dem convention week.

Overnights show President Obama's speech was watched by about 36 million (Romney 30 million).  Bill Clinton's speech on Tuesday got around 25 million, and even beat out the tense second half of the opening NFL Giants-Cowboys game.

A lot of people were pushing back against lukewarm pundits on Obama's speech, and there's this highly interesting--and very positive-- roundup of newspaper front pages in swing states. 

Speaking of swing states, both the Romney campaign and their key (but of course un-coordinated, because that would be illegal) superpacs have pulled ads from PA, Michigan and Wisconsin.  Jonathan Chiat reads a lot into this in terms of Romney strategy--noting that Romney has to win every one of the swing states he's targeting to get enough electoral votes--but it's way early to divine that a campaign has definitively abandoned certain states.  Especially with the millions that Romneyryanrove have amassed.

The Labor Dept. Jobs report showed 96,000 jobs added and unemployment dropping from 8.3 to 8.1.  This is less than half of what a private outfit reported in new hiring for August.  I don't know what that means, except possibly that there was a surge towards the end of the month that the Labor Dept. didn't count.  At this point, however, only a very bad report or a very good one is likely to break out as big news.  Wall Street is expected the Fed to do some more stimulus next week--what could be interesting about that is if Bernake says loudly that they had to do it because Congress wouldn't.

On the stump, President Obama is pointing out that the GOPer strangling Congress has failed to pass or even consider the American Jobs Act.  It's a year now since President Obama proposed it.  

The Obama campaign received more than half a million grassroots donations during the Dem convention, and is going for 600,000 by midnight.

Update: By late Friday another two polls, including Reuters/Ipsos daily tracker, showed movement in Obama's direction of from 2 to 4 points.  And the Obama campaign zoomed past 600,000 on its way to 7.

A Convention to Remember

The GOP convention provided golden opportunities, and on Thursday Democrats made sure they took every one of them.  If Mitt Romney wasn't going to offer specifics or talk about American soldiers and foreign policy, President Obama did, and so did just about everybody else.

If Romney was going to try to make a joke out of the Climate Crisis, John Kerry and especially President Obama were going to call him on it:

"And yes, my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet – because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They’re a threat to our children’s future. And in this election, you can do something about it."

The day's highlights included Gabby Gifford's courageous accomplishment of leading the Pledge of Allegiance, demonstrating not only her courage and the fragility of our lives but the cost of being a conscientious and intelligent public servant in this era of violent extremism in the land of guns.

John Lewis placed current GOP voter suppression efforts in the context he lived, of the Civil Rights movement, and the sorry history of such efforts to cheat African Americans out of their votes and their rights.

Caroline Kennedy presented a calmly expressed but passionate case for President Obama's accomplishments as well as his promise, as in keeping with the Kennedy legacy.  She pointed out that her father never got to run for a second term--all the more reason to make sure this President gets his.

But following her came the surprise of the day--the normally cool and collected former Governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm bringing the crowd to their feet with a preacher-on-steroids recitation of all the jobs in all the states that the rescue of the American auto industry saved for American workers.

John Kerry was blunt, incisive and funny in taking apart the Romneyryan qualifications and non-specific foreign policy positions, such as they are.  He was the first to call Romney on the Climate Crisis.

Joe Biden's acceptance speech was heartfelt and mesmerizing.  He talked about the two elements of his favorite bumper sticker saying (General Motors is alive, and Osama bin Laden is dead) but in terms of being there when President Obama made those decisions.  He also talked about Medicare versus Vouchercare.

President Obama promised specifics and he delivered, outlining the choice of visions for the next four years in the first part of his speech.  In addition to following through on efforts he's begun on jobs and the economy, health care, education and energy, he talked more about foreign policy than the entire GOPer convention did.  Real responsibilities that a real President must face.

Around the world, we’ve strengthened old alliances and forged new coalitions to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. We’ve reasserted our power across the Pacific and stood up to China on behalf of our workers. From Burma to Libya to South Sudan, we have advanced the rights and dignity of all human beings – men and women; Christians and Muslims and Jews.

But for all the progress we’ve made, challenges remain. Terrorist plots must be disrupted. Europe’s crisis must be contained. Our commitment to Israel’s security must not waver, and neither must our pursuit of peace. The Iranian government must face a world that stays united against its nuclear ambitions. The historic change sweeping across the Arab World must be defined not by the iron fist of a dictator or the hate of extremists, but by the hopes and aspirations of ordinary people who are reaching for the same rights that we celebrate today.

  He produced some bold statements and sharp critiques.  For example:

"My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy, but from all that we’ve seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly.
After all, you don’t call Russia our number one enemy – and not al Qaeda – unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War time warp. You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally."

"And while my opponent would spend more money on military hardware that our Joint Chiefs don’t even want, I’ll use the money we’re no longer spending on war to pay down our debt and put more people back to work – rebuilding roads and bridges; schools and runways. After two wars that have cost us thousands of lives and over a trillion dollars, it’s time to do some nation-building right here at home."

"But when Governor Romney and his allies in Congress tell us we can somehow lower our deficit by spending trillions more on new tax breaks for the wealthy – well, you do the math. I refuse to go along with that. And as long as I’m President, I never will."

"And I will never turn Medicare into a voucher."

"This is the choice we now face. This is what the election comes down to. Over and over, we have been told by our opponents that bigger tax cuts and fewer regulations are the only way; that since government can’t do everything, it should do almost nothing. If you can’t afford health insurance, hope that you don’t get sick. If a company releases toxic pollution into the air your children breathe, well, that’s just the price of progress. If you can’t afford to start a business or go to college, take my opponent’s advice and “borrow money from your parents.”

In the last part of his speech he outlined the values that inform his vision.  He spoke about citizenship as the identity that binds us.  For everybody--but especially I think for people who followed him in 08 and may have fallen away--he elaborated on the real meaning of hope and change.  He's alluded to this before, he's said it in other ways, but in this context it was particularly powerful.  "The hope is you," he said.  And after four years, that means something, because that "you" is behind accomplishments with real meaning for real people.

"So you see, the election four years ago wasn’t about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens – you were the change.

You’re the reason there’s a little girl with a heart disorder in Phoenix who’ll get the surgery she needs because an insurance company can’t limit her coverage. You did that."

Here's a link to videos of the major speeches and to the text of President Obama's speech.  The punditocracy seemed underwhelmed (except on msnbc) but I suspect this is like one of those Clinton State of the Unions that went over their heads.  I think this speech is going to take on every more significance as time goes on, as an eloquent statement not just of the choice in this election but a political philosophy for these times.  A civics lesson for the future.

But for all its skillfulness, one of its most potent lines may well have been accidental.  President Obama was about to talk about the effect of actually being the decider-in-chief.  He was about to talk about what it's like to order soldiers into action, and then comfort the loved ones of those who didn't make it home.  But he started this section with these words:

"I recognize that times have changed since I first spoke to this convention. The times have changed – and so have I. I’m no longer just a candidate. I’m the President."

But at the words "I'm the President" the hall erupted in cheers.  Twitter went nuts.  Later in the evening commentators were interpreting the meaning and power of that phrase in their own ways.  What I thought about as I saw the reaction of people there was the realization that--yes, we did this once, he is the President, he is our President, and it would be a damn shame not to do this again.  And it was the connection between 2008 and 2012.

Earlier they ran a video I've seen before that very skillfully and very quickly lists the major accomplishments of President Obama's first term.  They are awesome.  They are historic.  And in a sane country they would result in a landslide reelection. 

Yet the polls say he's tied or barely ahead of the worst candidate either party has fielded in generations.  He's opposed by people who in just the last few days: said that the Democrats claim that his speech was moved inside from the outdoor arena was because they couldn't raise the crowd and not because of the forecast threat of thunderstorms, because Democrats knew of this forecast "for months;"  that student loans could lead to another Holocaust; and tweeted "I hope someone was passing out free condoms tonight, otherwise Sandra Fluke might be in trouble tomorrow." 

The party of the vile and the stupid shouldn't even be polling in double digits.  But unless and until Americans start paying attention, this country and the future are in trouble.  President Obama outlined the choice:

"If you turn away now – if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn’t possible…well, change will not happen. If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void: lobbyists and special interests; the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election and those who are making it harder for you to vote; Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry, or control health care choices that women should make for themselves.

Only you can make sure that doesn’t happen. Only you have the power to move us forward."


Thursday, September 06, 2012

You and Me, Bro

"I've been watching a lot of the coverage and I don't get it. I'm an old white guy-- and I love Barack Obama."

James Taylor at the DNC
just before he sang "You've Got A Friend"

He started out by approaching his chair for "Carolina On My Mind" and reassuring the crowd they didn't have to be nervous about the empty chair.  "I'm going to sit in it, not talk to it."

(I believe this photo is from the sound check early on Thursday, which apparently turned into a mini-concert for the few delegates there.)

A Speech to Remember

On election day in 1992,  I drove from my beloved Pittsburgh apartment to my polling place with "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" on a loop in my Chevette's cassette player.  And I played it really loud on the way home.  What a day that was.

To that same song--his convention theme song (a mystery until it played after his acceptance speech)--Bill Clinton walked onto the stage at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and gave the speech of his life.

And that's saying something.  There have been a few comparative clunkers through the years--his famous first convention speech (in which he got the biggest applause for the line, "in conclusion...") and his second Inaugural.  But he could make speeches even on the most pedestrian occasions (including ones that a relative handful of people heard, only on C-Span) shine.  And he made some very important ones for himself--especially at his nominating convention but at various times on the big stages throughout his presidency.

As many commentators said--and as I suggested was the golden opportunity waiting to be taken--he gave a detailed policy speech and rebuttal of GOPer lies, contrasting with the GOPers refusal to be specific about anything.  He did it with clarity and charm and some perfect one-liners (which to be fair were scattered in a number of speeches throughout the day--all showing signs of having been at least edited by the same speechwriting team.)  There was something Mark Twain about how he summarized the GOPer argument against Obama: "we left him a perfect mess but he didn't clean it up fast enough, so fire him and hire us back."

He made the key arguments, but more than that he gave them the weight of his own presidency.“No president — no president — not me, not any of my predecessors, no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years,” Clinton said. “He has laid the foundations for a new modern successful economy, a shared prosperity, and if you will renew the president’s contract, you will feel it.”

 I wasn't too crazy about how he handled himself in the 08 primaries, and I disagreed with some of what he did as President (though I usually wound up defending him to friends.) But this brought back fonder memories. Memories also of how he drove the GOP literally crazy. They really hated him.  Now he's got a 69% approval rating, even higher among women.

So two nights, two outstanding, historic speeches.  As Jonathan Bernstein wrote, "Bill Clinton tonight showed them all how it’s done. He gave a master class in how to combine folksy and poetic language, stinging one-liners and policy nuance, empathy and rip-roaring partisanship. It was as good as it gets."  Other commentaries: Joe Klein Michael Tomasky, Dan Amira (with a video of the entire 48 minute speech.)

Though Tuesday lacked the freshness of the first day, there were other highlights: Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas leading the Pledge of Allegiance and Brandon Marsalis playing the national anthem, Planned Parenthood prez Camille Richards (who I didn't know is the daughter of beloved Ann Richards), Sister Simone Campbell (one of the nuns on the bus--I'm not a Catholic anymore, but she made me proud of having been one), Sandra Fluke, Elizabeth Warren.  And remarkably the energy in the hall seemed to stay up all day.

So of course this all leaves everybody wondering how vp Joe Biden and especially President Obama are going to top this or even measure up tomorrow.  Not a bad problem to have.


Wednesday, September 05, 2012


So far the Democratic convention is remarkably focused on what one speaker summed up in one word today: opportunity.  A potent message.

They are also focused on another "o" word: Obama.  Even when Chris Matthews was interviewing two of Teddy Kennedy's sons about their father, neither of them said a sentence without including Barack Obama in it, as the person who continues the fight for the causes the Kennedys championed.  What a contrast to the NRC.

Obama's Secret

Here's the secret about President Obama nobody talks about.  It's never mentioned at the convention, or in the ads, or even in introductions.  It's a forgotten moment in his past.

But in the interest of truth, I'm afraid I must remind you.  President Obama's deepest secret is this: he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Shhhh.  Don't tell anybody.

A Night To Remember

It's hard to imagine a better first night for the Democratic National Convention.  Every speaker I saw was impressive in some way (though I missed a few.)  Even some of what happened before the magic network hour was magic, and may have more impact in news clips and campaign spots.

  I'm thinking especially of Stacey Lihn, not a politician, on stage as the mother of a toddler with a heart defect.  Her presentation was perfect--crisp, emotional and absolutely on point.  Her child was in danger of exceeding her lifetime limit on her health insurance, until Obamacare lifted that limit.  But she's heard Romney say he would repeal it on day one, and that's "something we worry about every single day."  Now it's a right that would be taken away. There's no way this young family could afford to provide the care she needs. Her husband and two children stood beside her.  One of the girls stood and looked appealingly at the crowd.  The other was in her father's arms, and at the mention of Romney (coincidentally but potently) she began to fuss and cry.

The politicians did pretty well, too (although the young daughter of Mayor Castro of San Antonio, the keynote speaker, did a little scene stealing herself when she became interested when she saw her face on the TV and fluffed her hair to watch what happened.)  Mayor Castro told a Latino version of the multi-generational American Dream, which would later find resonance in Michelle Obama's.  Si se puede.

  Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts gave a fiery speech (just before primetime), at last justifying his reputation as an orator.  Govenor O'Malley of Maryland started primetime with a call and response, and the enthusiastic crowd cooperated by flashing their "Forward" signs (in blue) and "Not Back" (in red, of course) right on cue. Earlier, Kathleen Sibelius was sharp, and even the old white guy of the night--former Republican Governor of RI Lincoln Chafee-- was sweetly effective.

Kal Penn, Lilly Ledbetter--crisp and on point, very impressive. Rahm Emanuel was also crisp and on point, talking issues but from the perspective of being the Chief of Staff in the first years.  Joseph Kennedy III (Bobby's grandson)  introduced a tribute video to Senator Ted Kennedy--and he has the star power and presence to reopen the Kennedy franchie--while the video itself also happened to deftly show Teddy shredding Mitt Romney in their senatorial debates, showing Romney avoiding any specifics and Teddy calling him on it.  When Romney talked about how pro-choice he is (!), Teddy said, he says he's pro choice, I think he's multiple choice.  Is it still 1994?  Romney must think so.

But of course the supernova of the night was Michelle Obama.  Like the best of the preceding speeches, it told a positive story which--by the plot points it touched--reminded everyone of Romney positions and characteristics to the contrary.  But it was also a truly transcendent speech--one of the greatest moments in convention history--certainly a great television moments.  The speech as written is brilliant, but it was the presentation that made it so powerful, so transcendent.   I wouldn't want to be Barack right now, trying to do better.

In the form of the evening, a very effective infomercial.  In the content, it was speaking to the Obama constitutency that needs to come out in big numbers: women, Latinos, Africian Americans, gays and lesbians, seniors, the new immigrants.  If they do, he wins.  But more than that: this is the new Democratic party.  It's not identity politics--it's demographics, it's the new reality.  It's the new American middle class.

I've watched these conventions for many years.  At their best, they are the Democrats reaffirming what they stand for.  Here there were no apologies for Obamacare, for the philosophy of helping hands, of social justice.  Sure, there was political skill in the best presentations.  But this wasn't skewed to some pollster's idea of the undecideds you have to cater to.  This was: this is who we are, this is our guy. 

That's why there was so much enthusiasm, so much love in the hall.  And this was the first day.        

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Table Is Set

The Democratic National Convention begins today, and the table is set.  Some commentators on Monday were explaining the complete lack of a Romney bounce following the NRC on the dynamics of the race this year--one theory is that each party has pretty much nailed down its voters, with a few percentage still undecided.  The Romney non-bounce supports this theory.  But now comes the Democratic convention.

The Romneyryans were harsh and negative, and much of what they said about President Obama was untrue. Nobody had much to say about why Romney would be a good President (most speakers talked about themselves.)  Most of all, they didn't present specific solutions, they didn't even discuss the major issues. 

They instead presented the Democrats with a golden opportunity to give voters what they didn't hear and what they need to hear: a positive vision, specific accomplishments and specific solutions, a way forward.  And there's plenty of opportunity along the way to set the record straight on those GOPer lies.

Then they've got President Obama.  They're unlikely to fritter away the intro time, but they've got video of a lot to remind people of--especially all the wonders of 2008.  And then President Obama speaks.  If the end of his new stump speech in Toledo on Monday was an indication, he's going to light a fire.  Since 1996 the Gallup poll has asked people to rate convention acceptance speeches.  The highest marks went to Barack Obama in 2008.  58% said it was excellent or good.  Most of the others were either a little above 50% or a little below.  None before this year got below 47% (John McCain in 2008.)  Until Mitt Romney last week--he got 38%.  And a smaller audience as well.

I'd say the table is set--not only for a successful convention, but for momentum in the polls and in the campaign.

Some are worried that the same enthusiasm of 2008 isn't there.  It's true there aren't those great songs.  Where are the songs?  What are those music business and Hollywood folks doing?  But news of this dearth has been greatly exaggerated.  The number of people contributing to the Obama campaign has just passed 3.1 million.  That's more than contributed in 2008, and there are a couple of months to go.  Even Politico had to admit that enthusiasm among convention Dems is high--much higher than GOPers.

It may be that the enthusiasm is just out there waiting.  After all, there were no primary elections to get excited about, to focus on.  The Dem convention is the match that should set that enthusiasm on fire again.  That's the opportunity.  The table is set.  

Besides campaigning hard on Monday, President Obama visited hurricane victims in Louisiana.
Top photo: Labor Day rally in Charlotte, NC, site of the DNC.

Follow the Money

President Obama spoke to a labor union audience in Toledo on Monday.  He noted how at the GOPer convention, speakers demonized union workers, and especially the unionized government workers, and even more especially, teachers.  But their opposition to unions is not about economics, he said, it's about politics.

More specifically it's about the economics of politics.  Rachel Maddow again made the case that GOPers try to destroy unions and drive down union membership because only the big labor unions can even compete with corporations and the megarich in providing financing to political campaigns.  If GOPers can destroy unions, they destroy the Democratic party.

The numbers drive the policies, but they extend beyond opposing unions.  They help explain GOP virulence against government workers, because with the decline in private sector unions, the public sector is a major source of unionized workers.  GOP governors and legislators have driven the decline in state workers that continues to drag down the employment numbers.  While private sector employment grows, it is offset every month by lost public sector jobs.

There are other ramifications that drive other policies.  Unions (far more than entrepreneurial business) have provided support for newcomers who start low in the labor market to work their way into the middle class.  Unions were crucial to the generations of immigrants who came to America in the first half of the 20th century--like the ones extolled by GOPer convention speakers.  They were Polish, Italian, Irish, etc.  They were the ones who sacrificed, who bled, in the battle to unionize major industries, and eventually they were the ones who benefited--along with their descendants now in suburbia.

GOPers continue to oppose unions even in those older industries (opposition that President Eisenhower said in the 1950s was "stupid") and even rolling back hard-won union rights and programs. 

But those industries have declined, and unions have declined for jobs now held by those former ethnics--now simply identified and self-identified as white people.  Unions have again become crucial to those comparatively fewer workers who start at the bottom, who now come from different countries, and are classified racially as African American, Latino and Asian.

There's another component to this.  While many unions championed civil rights, and equal hiring rights, it has been the public sector that has provided jobs without prejudice based on race, gender or partner preference.  That's partly because of Civil Service and other means that make qualifications strictly based on exam results or other measures of merit.  But it also because those public sector unions are the most diversified, with a higher proportion of women and racial and other minorities. 

So in attacking immigrants (meaning principally Latinos), attacking women's rights and harking back to a time when women were necessarily more dependent, and even attacking public education itself, the GOP is trying to deny the Democrats the means to sustain itself as a party, financially and otherwise, while appeasing its incredibly shrinking base.

Longterm it's a losing strategy, unless the GOP can lock up the process now, with unlimited money and official voter suppression.  In the now, it is cruel, biased, cynical and ultimately harmful not only to the people under attack, but to the country as a whole, and the country's future. 

In pursuing these policies, the GOP is helping to drive U.S. education, health care, income mobility, etc. down further and further in the ranks of the industrialized nations.  The U.S. is losing competitive ground because of this, and because the GOP privileges its fossils and their fossil fuel industries over the industries of the future that other countries are very busy developing, and creating a perhaps insurmountable lead.  By going so far as to deny the science of the climate crisis, GOPers are wounding the world's future--which they may be surprised to learn necessarily includes the U.S.--and specifically destroying this country's unique ability to lead, or even to participate.

All so some billionaires can hug their money tighter, pile it higher, and provide themselves with fancier graves.            

Sunday, September 02, 2012

This Seat is Taken

Now it's his turn.

Even as the GOPer convention was ending, it was President Obama who had the most re-tweeted tweet of that convention, just after the Clint Eastwood performance: the photo above, with the caption "This seat is taken."

 Campaigning in the days leading up to the Dem convention in Charlotte, Obama's crowds are getting bigger and he's getting sharper.  On Sunday it was clear that the Dems aren't going to let Romneyryan define the Medicare debate.  VP Biden put it simply, "We're for Medicare.  They're for vouchercare."

President Obama had his own take in Boulder: "You know, he calls it Obamacare. I like the name. I do care. .... I don't know exactly what the other side is proposing; I guess you could call it 'Romney doesn't care.' But this law is here to stay."

Meanwhile, Political Wire has provided an intriguing statement from a Wall St. Journal article.  I don't know how credible it is, but...

The Wall Street Journal says President Obama "has fundamentally shifted his view of modern presidential power" and "is now convinced the most essential part of his job, given politically divided Washington, is rallying public opinion to his side. As a result, if he wins a second term, Mr. Obama plans to remain in campaign mode."

"The president views a second term in some ways as a second chance, an opportunity to approach the office differently... He would like to tackle issues such as climate change, immigration, education and filibuster reform."