January 31, 2007
Portrait of the Phenom as a Young Man
This 1995 profile of Barack Obama the community organizer is about the most illuminating article I've read on the man. What's striking, as others have mentioned, is how much of Obama shines through: His words tumble forth in the same complex, inspirational, deeply intelligent paragraphs we know and love, his thoughts turn to unity and steadfastly avoid demonization. But what's important is the emphasis on his actual time as a community organizer.
This is the profession from which he comes, the experiences that vaulted him into elected office, the skills he used to get there. You can look at Hillary's decades in political life and understand instantly where her caution comes from. You can study John Edwards' trial lawyer days and get a handle on his fundamental populism. And you can read about Obama's organizing background and see how deep his desire for unity and talent for consensus-building go. His was a job of common ground, of bringing people together, of kneading and stretching and spreading a solution until all parties could agree on its desirability. This may make him very effective in getting things done. Or, conversely, it may make him very ineffective if folks simply refuse to agree and he can't jettison potential allies for stronger policies. Draw your own conclusions.
While on the subject of Obama, I've often assailed him for not using his prominence and political capital to lead in the Senate. Yesterday, that changed.
More on Money in Politics
To add weight to Joe Klein's suspicion that money matters less and less, The National Journal's Patrick Ottenhoff took the FEC disbursement forms, calculated the total amount spent by candidates in 2006, divided by the votes they amassed, and came up with how much each candidate spent per vote. "Richard Tarrant (R-VT) spent by far the most money on each vote ($85), while fellow self-funders Pete Ricketts (R-NE) and Ned Lamont (D-CT) came in second ($63) and third ($45), respectively. All three lost their races."
It's not that money doesn't matter, but particularly in primaries, particularly in smallish-to-medium states, the point where excess cash ceases offering significant returns is fairly achievable.
Bye Bye Biden
I know all the other blogs have it, but I don't think you can repost Joe Biden's description of Barack Obama enough:
“I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” he said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”
The first. What's about Oprah? Or Harold Ford? Or, uh, Martin Luther King Jr.?
Defend Biden how you will, ascribe the most generous meaning to his words possible, assume it's just a genuine compliment with unfortunate resonances. This guy's not a rookie. He's not an amateur. He's not new to political campaigns. If, after approximately 112 years in the political spotlight, he's still making gaffes like this one, then that alone eviscerates the rationale for his candidacy.
Update: Josh Marshall writes:
I think at this point you have to say that Biden suffers from what one might with real generosity call chronic racial grandpaism. That is to say, the penchant for making comments that are not only racially offensive but also extremely silly and the sort of things that are sometimes excused or at least passed over from men, say, over 80 on the reasoning that they're from a different era and why get into it. Actually, the clock has probably even run out on that excuse when you figure that a man who is 80 today was forty in 1966. But however that may be, excuses that fly in the retirement community or family reunions just doesn't cut it in a man who aspires to the presidency.
These points on the money primary, coming from the other Klein, are sound:
I think that [money is] less important than it's been in recent campaign cycles for several reasons. I mean, why do politicians feel compelled to raise gazillions? To buy television advertising, mostly negative...Negative advertising, which was used overwhelmingly by Republicans, didn't seem all that effective in 2006, which may be a sign of things to come. Of course, candidates do need to raise some money--the Democrats' ability to respond cleverly to Republican trash was an important aspect of their 2006 victory--but they don't need to raise as much as they think they need to raise.
Second, I think the perambulations of various money people--Bob Farmer, for example--are less important than they used to be. I'm far more interested in money raised on the web as a thermometer for what's going on in a campaign.
So why do journalists obsess about The Money Primary? Because it's quantifiable. Journalists overvalue things you can count: money, poll ratings (which are completely meaningless at this point--except, perhaps, in places like Iowa and New Hampshire) and endorsements.
That's all true, at least so far as the primary election goes. Competing in Iowa and New Hampshire just isn't that costly an exercise, remember where Dean's millions got him. Better, candidates who excel in either testing ground will find their coffers full by lunchtime the next day -- particularly given the internet's capacity for accelerating and absorbing funder excitement.
That said, if California does move up to February 5th, money becomes significantly more important. A few days ago, I opposed the primary move for just that reason. A few other bloggers (Kevin and Atrios, I think?) suggested that, in fact, what the Golden State would test were the real operative skills of modern campaigners -- media control, fundraising ability, and telegenicism. But while a California primary may let Obama, Clinton, or even Edwards demonstrate their media savvy, it won't do the same for potentially adept candidates the press hasn't already decided to cover. If a candidate expertly dodges a question, but no reporter was there to hear it, did he even make a sound? Moreover, fundraising skill is fine and well and good, but it relies more on expectations of electability than talent, and a small candidate facing the California primary is going to present a dim bet. That said, covering primaries is the sort of thing my job allows me to do, and so it's hard for me to really oppose moving California, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico into more prominent positions.
January 30, 2007
Things I Didn't Know
From an Atlantic interview with Bill Clinton (reprinted by, yes, Free Republic):
[Q: Would you like to write a number of books, like Carter or Nixon?] I'd like to write more, if people like this one. This book will not be as policy-oriented as a lot of the books I could write. I've actually been talking to John Kenneth Galbraith about writing a book about American government. I'd be very interested in doing it with him. I think he thinks my autobiography a little frivolous and wants me to get that over with so I can do something serious and worthwhile. [This last sentence delivered wryly.]
Clinton almost wrote a book with Galbraith? That would've been...something. I'm not quite sure what, but definitely something.
Ze Frank and the Iguana
This is sort of awesomely hilarious. It occurs to me that Ze Frank has pioneered his own, almost entirely new style of news anchoring -- no breaths, fresh cadence, quick talking, audience involvement. I don't know if you could stretch him out to 15 minutes, or even 30, but I'd think some enterprising cable network would be willing to try.
Update: More Ze Frank, at the TED Conference, with an awesome parody of Nigerian bank transfer spam.
Only 86 days, 23 hours, 41 minutes, and 30 or so seconds to go.
Eye on The Corner
Shorter J-Pod: I don't think this is wrong, but I'm still willing to attack John Edwards for it. I'm starting to see this tactic fairly often as The Corner slips into opposition mode (my personal favorite was Jonah's hilarious "Now, I don't think Charles Lindbergh is as loathsome as others do, but Matt Yglesias is a modern day Lindbergh," best analyzed here). I've always felt a bit bad for J-Pod; he strikes me a quite a bit smarter, more self-conscious, and more slyly ironic than his paid opinions allow for. So you get odd compromises like this one, where he disagrees that a populist shouldn't have a big house, but links to the attack anyway. "Look, I would never suggest you beat your wife, so let's put that terrible charge aside and focus on the issues."
And speaking of NRO-in-opposition, the site's already seeing a backlash against Romney, which seems all the more intense because it has to fight K-Lo's intense crush on him. They're going to be interesting to watch during the primary season.
Lastly, Ramesh is right, the Bush administration is full of liars.
Update: This is what I mean by J-Pod being funny. I've seen a lot of Andrew Sullivan parodies in my day (blog years are like cat year, so it's been a long day), but that's the finest one I can recall.
Consumer Directed Health Care
Liberals For Porn, Minimum Wage
Ross Douthat responds to my post against Girls Gone Wild saying:
Yes indeed - thank God that regular, all-American porn doesn't have anything to do with rape or drugs or pressured consent or economic exploitation. It's a shame that bad apples like Joe Francis have to go and ruin a perfectly unproblematic industry.
Well, does "all-American porn" (I never suggested GGW was French, by the way) feature "rape or drugs or pressured consent or economic exploitation?" If it does, I'm all for bringing the long arm of the law, or the loud chant of activists, against it. But I get the feeling Douthat is actually suggesting porn itself is a clearly problematic industry that's inseparable from those vices, along the lines of Irving Kristol's "A liberal is a person who sees a fourteen-year-old girl performing sex acts onstage and wonders if she's being paid minimum wage," which is slightly different.
Aside from the scurrilous insinuation that liberals condone underage sex (Mark Foley, anyone?), Kristol's not entirely off-base. I'd prefer a living wage, of course, and his quote says nothing about health benefits, retirement plans, or lunch breaks, but the conditions under which workers of legal age enter into contracts and labor is of concern to me. If they entered into their contract, however, without compulsion or intimidation and are being fairly compensated, their decision to have sex on camera doesn't much bother me. That said, if Douthat knows of other pornography companies that engage in GGW's labor practices, I'll happily join his coalition. Porn workers of the world rise up! You have nothing to lose but your non-work related chains!