The Straightaway

Politics Without Pundits

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A New America

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A New America

Twenty-two months ago, on the very steps on which one great president and Illinois legislator announced his candidacy, another Illinois legislator – the audacious first-term United States senator from Chicago – turned some heads and drew some laughter by announcing his own bid for the presidency of the United States of America. On November 4, 2008, what started as a distant dream in Springfield, Illinois has become veritable fact. Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill) will become the 44th president of the United States of America.

Obama’s victory, which was once unthinkable but seemingly inevitable as the campaign drew to a close, sent shockwaves throughout the world. People in places as far removed as Hong Kong, Sydney, and a little village in Kenya rejoiced when the news broke. World leaders as diverse as French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Iranian leader Mahmoud Amhadinejad sent words of congratulations.

The joy felt around the world was ten-fold in the United States. When the major news networks delivered the projection of Obama’s victory, men, women, and children across the land burst into exuberant celebration. Tears fell from even the eyes of grown men – the image of civil rights champion, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, with tears streaming down his face will endure as one of the most touching images of the 21st century.

Politics is by its very nature melodramatic – a political victory usually means much less than it made out to. The election of Barack Obama is an exception, like the election of Nelson Mandela as the president of South Africa (and the future election of a female American president). Any way you slice it, electing an African American to the most powerful office in a land where they were once legally enslaved is significant. The tears of the Rev. Jesse Jackson said it all.

But the great thing about Barack Obama is that he cannot simply be pegged as the black candidate. A greater percentage of white voters chose Obama than the white Democratic nominees in past years, such as Al Gore, John Kerry, and even Bill Clinton in 1992. Being black helped Obama win, but it was not the main reason, and it will not define his presidency.

Obama didn’t win because of the color of his skin, or because of where he is from; honestly, he didn’t entirely win because of the issues. His charisma and oratorical skills certainly helped, as did the false steps of the McCain campaign, including the unconscionable blunder of choosing Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee. These reasons, however, do not tell the whole story.

Obama won because Americans of all ideologies – liberal, moderate, conservative, apathetic – saw something in Obama they yearned to find within themselves again: hope. They saw in Obama the promise of a better tomorrow, a better America.

Perhaps such cliché sentiments should not decide the outcome of political contests. But they did. The conditions of the American political and economic atmosphere were ideal for someone like Obama – an unpopular president, a long overseas conflict, a sagging economy, historically low political efficacy.

Now, an inexperienced, untested chief executive inhabits the most powerful office in the land. Obama remains an enigma, despite almost two years in the political spotlight – no one really knows what to expect from the Obama presidency. America has chosen a leader it seems to know little about.

Despite this, it is clear that Barack Obama has the capacity to become a great president. Only a leader of great potential can enthrall a nation as he has. One of the most important qualities of a leader is their ability to inspire those they seek to lead. It is impossible to say that Obama has not inspired America. People from all walks of life – old, young, rich, poor – have fought for Obama in perhaps the most massive political campaign in the history of mankind, in terms of organization, manpower, and money. People believe in Obama more than any politician of our generation.

Obama has promised to lead America wisely. His promise to exercise tact before tactical missiles will be a welcome change from the imprudently aggressive foreign policy of past Republican and Democratic presidents. His promise to promote diplomacy will help restore America’s image in the world arena. His promise to help the poor and disenfranchised, as he did when he was a community organizer in the slums of Chicago, will restore the faith in government of the average American. If Obama keeps his promises to America, great things will happen.

However, promises are just promises. The truth is that the difficult situation at home and abroad, the unpopularity of the Bush administration, and the high rhetoric of the campaign has leveled unbelievable amounts of expectation on the shoulders of President-elect Barack Obama. Everyone expects everything of him – it will be difficult for him to live up to the expectations. Obama will sometimes say the wrong thing, make errors, or fail. Such is the life of any person, whether they are a president or a store clerk.

Expectations and conditions have crushed leaders of great hope in the past. The ouster of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the democratic election of President Corazon Aquino was a time of great hope for the Filipino people. Filipinos around the world flocked home, hoping that their new leader would turn the Philippines into a first-class country. Despite her best efforts, Aquino failed. More than twenty years after her election, the Philippines is still impoverished and corrupt.

The true test for Obama will be whether he can overcome the adversity he will surely face and continue to lead efficiently and virtuously. Obama has the skills necessary to succeed – the charisma of Kennedy, the eloquence of Lincoln, a strong intellect and seemingly sound judgment. He also has a brilliant, experienced second-in-command in Vice President-elect Joe Biden who will be a great asset for him.

What is audacious about hope is the fact that hope is considered audacious at all. Hundreds of millions of hopeful Americans have elected a young President who represents the hope they wish to feel, the change they wish to make. The election of President Barack Obama is not an end, but simply a means. As Obama said in his acceptance speech, “this victory alone is not the change we seek – it is only the chance to make that change.” The capacity for change, and greatness, is there, but the result remains unseen. President Obama has so much yet to prove.

The only certainty is that from this moment on, for better or for worse, this is a new America.

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Obama Crosses 270 Electoral Vote Line

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CNN is reporting on its Electoral Map Calculator that, if the election were held today, Obama would have 277 guaranteed electoral votes, putting him over the 270 threshold needed to secure the presidency. Obama was catapulted over the virtual 270 line by new poll numbers in Virginia, which shows Obama leading McCain by 9 percentage points.

Those poll numbers look too good to be true, so naturally, don’t believe that they are true. Obama is gaining nationally and in the battleground states, but never count John McCain out – his presidential campaign was virtually finished last summer, and yet he managed to rally and win the New Hampshire Republican primary and continue on to his party’s nomination.

After tonight’s debate, we come to that 19-day home stretch of the election season. Pundits across the board have been relying on the addage “a week in politics is like a year in real life.” If that’s really the case, then we still have two and a half “years” until the election. John McCain has resurrected a campaign in less time than that.

Written by acs2008

October 15, 2008 at 11:30 pm

Electoral Battle Plan

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In the 57 days until the 2008 Presidential Election, 12 swing states will be in the political spotlight. These twelve states and their 157 combined electoral votes will most likely decide who becomes the next President of the United States: Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Here’s a mini-profile on each of these battleground states: (Data from 270towin.com, realclearpolitics.com, and the U.S. Census Bureau)
Colorado (9 Electoral Votes)

Colorado has only gone to the Democrats once in the last 40 years, to Bill Clinton in 1992. In 2004, incumbent Republican George W. Bush won the state by only 4.7%. Sensing that this state is ripe to turn, the Democrats have made a strong push to secure it, holding their 2008 national convention in very-liberal Denver. The smashing success of the star-studded convention may very have put Colorado in the Democratic column. Most Recent State Poll – Obama +3 (Rasmussen Sept. 9)

Florida (27 electoral votes)

Everyone remembers how important Florida can be in a tight presidential election. Florida has a sizable hispanic population that is uncharacteristically Republican. The endorsement of Governor Charlie Crist (R) will surely help McCain, but the sagging economy and particularly lackluster housing market in Florida might play into Obama’s hands. Right now, Florida is truly up for grabs. Most Recent State Poll – Tie (Rasmussen Sept. 9)

Michigan (17 electoral votes)

Michigan has been solidly Democratic since the election of Bill Clinton in 1992. Before that, Michigan was solidly Republican, voting with the Elephant five consecutive times. The Republicans must be hoping that this is a re-alignment election for the state. Despite having a Democratic governor and two Democratic senators, Michigan’s working-class voters have simply not connected with Obama the way they did with Hillary Clinton. McCain hasn’t been that popular in Michigan either, getting blown out in the primary there by Mitt Romney (and if McCain had selected Romney as his running mate, Michigan would for sure be theirs). But for now, Michigan is too close to call. Most Recent State Poll – Obama +1 (PPP Sept. 8)

Minnesota (10 electoral votes)

The Republicans must have thought their long-shot chance in the state was close enough so that putting their convention in the state might put it in their column. Not likely. Minnesota over the years has been solidly Democratic, voting Republican only once, in Nixon’s 1972 landslide. In the primary, Obama won by a great margin over Clinton, while McCain finished a distant second to Romney. Officially, Minnesota is a “battleground,” but I don’t suspect the battle there will last long. Most Recent State Poll – Obama +12 (CNN/TIME)

Missouri (11 electoral votes)

Historically, Missouri tends to vote Republican, except if it’s a southern Democrat running (Jimmy Carter in 1976, Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996). Obama narrowly won the state’s primary of Clinton, but McCain also won the Republican counterpart. For now, Missouri seems solidly Republican. Most Recent State Poll – McCain +10 (PPD Aug. 17)

Nevada (5 electoral votes)

Usually Republican, Nevada voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. In 2004, Bush edged out Kerry by only 3%. State polls have fluctuated greatly, showing leads of 5-7% for both Obama and McCain within the month of August. Libertarian Bob Barr might steal some votes from McCain in this state, although the addition of pro-life, pro-gun running mate Sarah Palin might neutralize the Barr Factor. RCP Poll Average – Obama +1 (Individual polls not reliable).

New Hampshire (4 electoral votes)

New Hampshire has long been an anamoly – a moderately Republican state nestled within the very liberal Northeast. In 2000, New Hampshire went to Bush, but in 2004 the New Englander John Kerry took the state. Obama lost the Democratic primary to Clinton, while McCain’s New primary win re-energized his almost-dead campaign. New Hampshire is still up-for-grabs. Most Recent State Poll – Obama +1 (Rasmussen Aug. 18)

New Mexico (5 electoral votes)

The key to New Mexico will be the state’s large Hispanic population (44%). New Mexico voted for Clinton twice and for Gore in 2000, but in 2004 Bush beat out Kerry by less than 1%. New Mexico is a fine “bellwether” state – in eight of the last ten presidential elections, the candidate who won New Mexico won the entire state. Obama could get a boost from New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (D), who supported Obama after ending his own bid for the presidency. RCP Average – Obama +4.3 (Individual polls not reliable)

North Carolina (15 electoral votes)

North Carolina has only voted for a Democratic president once in the last 40 years, for Jimmy Carter in 1976. Both Obama and McCain scored impressive primary victories in the state. A key factor in the state could be the sizable African-American population (20%). Nationally, African-Americans have voted for Obama 80% of the time. If he can get optimum turnout from these voters, he might have a small shot at taking the state. Most Recent State Poll – McCain +3 (PPP Aug. 28)

Ohio (20 electoral votes)

Ohio is the ultimate bellwether state – in each of the past 10 presidential election, Ohio voted for the eventual winner. In 2004, Ohio put Bush over the top to secure the presidency. Obama lost the state to Clinton in the primary, while McCain earned a solid victory during the Republican primary. The most recent Rasmussen poll showed McCain up by as much as 7 points. However, two separate polls in August with much higher sample sizes (hence, more accurate) shows that the race is almost even in this state. Advantage: McCain, but not by as much as he’d like. RCP Average – McCain +1.3

Pennsylvania (21 electoral votes)

Working-class voters love the Clintons. They’re not so fond of Obama, which has kept Pennsylvania in play for the Republicans. Historically, Pennsylvania leans Democrat, having voted that way in the past four presidential elections. Obama will get a boost from his running mate Joe Biden, a Scranton, PA native. However, McCain and Palin might be able to sell Pennsylvanians on social issues, if not the economy. Obama might need Clintonian aid in Pennsylvania to seal the deal but for now, I think it’s his to lose. Most Recent State Poll – Obama +2 (Rasmussen Sept. 7)

Virginia (13 electoral votes)

Virginia just might be 2008’s Ohio, the state that pushes one candidate over the edge for victory. On the surface, this might look like bad news for the Democrats – in the past 10 elections, Virginia did not vote Democrat a single time, even during the Clinton years. However, with one Democratic senator (Jim Webb) and a Democratic governor (Tim Kaine, who was on Obama’s VP shortlist), maybe Virginia is ready for some “Change.” Had Obama picked Kaine as his running mate, Virginia would probably be his. He still has a shot there, but he must campaign his butt off in VA. Most Recent Poll – McCain +2 (FOX News/Rasmussen Sept. 7)

Results – Based on these poll numbers, if the election were today, Democrat Barack Obama would win the presidency with a narrow 278-260 electoral victory over Republican John McCain.

Obama’s Game Plan – Obama has to focus on clinching Pennsylvania and Colorado. He should also campaign hard in Virginia, where an upset would seal the presidency for him. Winning Ohio might be a little too much to ask for, but Obama should make a definite effort there.

McCain’s Game Plan – McCain should campaign hard in the three Mountain West states still in play: Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico. If he can take two of these, McCain will get just enough electoral votes to claim victory. Of these three states, Colorado and Nevada are particularly vulnerable. McCain should be careful not to let Ohio and Virginia out of his grasp. Taking Pennsylvania would be a definite game changer.

270 To Win!

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Stop following the “horse race” polls. National poll numbers matter little in the United States because of the Electoral College system.

270 To Win is a great web resource for all those interested in seeing which states Obama and McCain need to win the magical 270 electoral votes needed to secure the presidency. For the record, the website gives Obama an 84% chance of winning the right combination of states to win. After several simulations, it seems that this race will come down to Ohio (surprise!) and Virginia. Winning one or both of those states will pretty much guarantee victory for either party.

Sidenote: For months, Obama held a slim single-digit lead over McCain in the polls. Now, polls indicate that McCain is ahead by 3 points – well within the margin of error for the polls, no doubt. To demonstrate how meaningless popular vote polls are, review this statistic: in the 1960 Presidential election, John Kennedy beat Richard Nixon in the popular vote by less than .2% (49.72% vs. 49.55%). However, Kennedy cruised to a comfortable 303-219 electoral vote victory.

So, even the slightest margin in popular vote could mean an electoral landslide.

Written by acs2008

September 8, 2008 at 6:14 am

RNC Wednesday Rundown: Venom without Substance

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Click on the image to see Giulianis 2008 RNC speech.

Click on the image to see Giuliani’s 2008 RNC speech.

Rudy Giuliani‘s energetic speech was filled with direct, personal attacks on Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. Giuliani kept the attacks coming all night, on anything from Obama’s experience as a community organizer to his foreign policy stances. Giuliani promoted the standard Republican line on McCain as a heroic POW war hero who is ready to lead America. Giuliani offered his own delusional foreign policy ideas, somehow managing to bring up September 11th. Again. (Surprise, Surprise!). The most effective and substantive part of Giuliani’s speech was his assertions on Obama’s flip-flopping tendences:

“They would have acted in their self-interest, and they would have changed their position in order to win an election. How many times have we seen Barack Obama do this?

Obama — Obama promised to take public financing for his campaign, until he broke his promise.

Obama — Obama was against wiretapping before he voted for it.

When speaking to a pro-Israeli group, Obama favored an undivided Jerusalem, like I favor and like John McCain favored. Well, he favored an undivided Jerusalem — don’t get too excited — for one day, until he changed his mind.

Well, I’ll tell you, if I were Joe Biden, I’d want to get that V.P. thing in writing.”

Overall, a solid, rousing speech that didn’t say much about the issues.

Click on the picture to view VP nominee Sarah Palins speech wednesday at the Republican National Convention.

Click on the picture to view VP nominee Sarah Palin's speech wednesday at the Republican National Convention.

Sarah Palin‘s vice presidential speech, written by a former Bush speechwriter, was a smashing success inside the RNC hall. Palin established herself as a small-town mother with strong family values, which is sure to excite the evangelical conservative base. She showed that she has the potential to fill the VP-Attack-Dog role well, hitting Obama constantly and very personally.

“I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities.”

and

“For a season, a gifted speaker can inspire with his words. For a lifetime, John McCain has inspired with his deeds.”

Palin gave the usual inspiring rhetoric about John McCain, etc., but overall, her speech had little, if any, substance. She constantly attacked Obama’s policies, including a woefully erroneous assertion on taxes that leads one to believe that she is either a comfortable liar, or very misinformed on the issues – either would be dangerous, the former for the Obama campaign, the latter for the American people.

Palin came off as fiery but likable – her likability might allow her to get away with a lot. However, her barbs were deep and painful, some very dishonorable in a way that really contrasts with McCain’s respectful style. However, I suppose that is vice presidential politics.

Palin’s speech will galvanize true conservatives, but will do little, perhaps even repel, the independents they need to secure. Palin is quickly becoming the Republican Hillary Clinton, in the sense that she is a polarizing figure beloved by her party but absolutely abhorred by the opposition.

Executive Experience: Does It Matter?

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During his harsh speech at the Republican National Convention (more on it later), former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani has stressed Barack Obama’s lack of executive experience.

Well, neither Barack Obama nor John McCain have any executive experience.

This leaves us with the question: does executive experience matter?

Five of the previous 43 American presidents had no executive experience: James Madison, John Quincy Adams, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy .

What an illustrious list! James Madison, one of the greatest early American minds, framer of the Constitution and engineer of the Bill of Rights. After serving in the Virginia legislature for only 4 years, and the Continental Congress for 3, Madison became the President and defended Washington against the British in the War of 1812. Abraham Lincoln, after only three years in the House of Representatives, became one of the most eloquent executives ever, who kept the nation together in its most dire hour (the Civil War). And who can forget John F. Kennedy, the short-lived but inspirational leader who led America into space and towards equal civil rights.

Sure, even these three great men made mistakes in office (Bay of Pigs, anyone?), but overall, they were great leaders. You can be sure that both McCain and Obama have the potential to be great executives, experience be damned.

TIME’s article on Executive Experience

RNC Tuesday Rundown

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Former Presidential hopeful Fred Thompson gave what will probably be the strongest speech all night Tuesday at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. In fact, former Senator Thompson showed more life and said more words than he probably said during his entire abysmal primary season campaign.

First, Thompson vetted VP nominee Sarah Palin, calling her a “breath of fresh air.” Thompson poked fun at  Obama, saying that he preferred Palin’s substantive experience to just hitting the Sunday morning talk shows. Thompson attacked Obama several times (though he never mentioned the Democratic nominee’s name), calling him the most liberal, inexperienced person” to ever run for President.

Thompson had very strong words in support of his friend John McCain, reiterating his heroic POW experiences and praising McCain’s “strength, courage, humility, beauty, wisdom, and honor.” Thompson stressed that McCain was a big proponent of “reform,” which has become the Republican version of the nauseating buzz word “change.” Although he bumbled through some key points, Thompson gave a pretty good speech overall.

But as for Lieberman…

The fact that Independent Democrat Joe Lieberman is speaking at the RNC at all is shocking – just eight years ago, he ran as the Democratic vice presidential nominee. Lieberman’s speech was likely supposed to accentuate McCain’s maverick reputation. However, Lieberman said very little of consequence. If anything can be taken away from the Lieberman speech, it is that John McCain is a swell guy, whether or not you agree with his policies. This kind of bland statement pales in comparison to Thompson’s points – Thompson framed McCain well, specifically mentioning free trade, taxes, judge picking, abortion, and other issues.

Lieberman’s bland speech and bland facial expression failed to wow the convention hall, which was fairly empty in the upper levels. Compared to the DNC’s Tuesday night – featuring an electrifying speech by Senator Hillary Clinton – the RNC has not been able to produce the same energy as its Democratic counterpart.

Coming up Wednesday: the highly anticipated speech by VP nominee Sarah Palin. Considering the buzz around her, it is almost certain that things will pick up for her speech. But will it be enough to energize the conservative Republican base and put McCain/Palin over the top? We’ll have to wait and see.