Archive for the ‘Barack Obama’ Category

The Neighborhood Ball

January 21, 2009

I’m really enjoying The Neighborhood Ball. Within the first fifty minutes, America was treated to dueling divas. As much as I like Mariah Carey’s “Hero,” Beyonce got the best of her with her sublime performance of “At Last.” President Obama brandished his community organizing credentials when he talked about building neighborhoods across the country.

As for the presence of Queen Latifah, it’s bringing back some very fond memories I have of President Clinton’s inauguration in 1992. Following her performance at the inaugural afterparty at the Old Post Office, I got to congratulate her and chat about the incoming administration.


January 20, 2009

Yes We Cake

The Fabulous Dana’s culinary contribution to today’s festivities. Read more at YesWeCake.

A Day to Make History: A Look At Prior Inaugural Addresses

January 20, 2009

Given the magnitude of today’s inauguration, there are extremely high expectations for President-Elect Obama’s speech. With the historic nature of his own candidacy, the drastic dislike for President Bush, the economic crisis, the inauguration is drawing the biggest crowds in the Mall anyone has seen in at least a generation — far bigger than anti-war protests even in the midst of an unpopular war.

My sense is that Obama will meet the extremely high expectations set for him. His speech is twinned with the Rev. Martin Luther King III. Because of both Obama’s rhetorical style and coincidence, his big speeches invite comparison to King. He will go back to the themes of his Boston Democratic National Convention speech — change and unity — and tailor it for the economic crisis.

Here’s some of the language Obama could pick from to describe aspects of his election(taken from The Lakeside Press’s collection of Inaugural Addresses.)

What the President’s Election Means During a Financial Meltdown

We face the arduous days that lie before us in the warm courage of national unity…We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action. They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. The have made me the present instrument of their wishes—Franklin Roosevelt, 1933.

Interestingly Roosevelt’s most memorable line from that address came in the fifth sentence of the speech.

Setting Expectations

All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in the lifetime of our planet. But let us begin—John F. Kennedy, 1961.

Today, we’ll also get a dash of Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

On Change

There has been a change of government. It began two years ago, when the House of Representatives became Democratic by a decisive majority. It has now been completed. The Senate about to assemble will also be Democratic. The office of president and vice president have been put into the hands of Democrats. What does change mean? That is the question that is uppermost in our minds today…We shall restore, not destroy. We shall deal with our economic system as it is and as it may be modified, not as it might be if we had a clean sheet of paper to write upon; and step by step we shall make it what it should be, in the spirit of those who question their own wisdom…Woodrow Wilson, 1917.

On Unity

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.—Abraham Lincoln, 1864

Finally, I’d suggest that Obama not borrow from the pedestrian epic of William Harry Harrison in 1841. It went on for an hour and forty-five minutes. Here’s a taste.

Upward of half a century has elapsed since the adoption of the present form of government. It would be an object more highly desirable than the gratification of the curiosity of speculative statesmen if its precise situation could be ascertained, a fair exhibit made of the operations of each of its departments, of the powers which they respectively claim and exercise, of the collisions which have occurred between them or between the whole Government and those of the States or either of them. We could then compare our actual condition after fifty years’ trial of our system with what it was in the commencement of its operations and ascertain whether the predictions of the patriots who opposed its adoption or the confident hopes of its advocates have been best realized. The great dread of the former seems to have been that the reserved powers of the States would be absorbed by those of the Federal Government and a consolidated power established, leaving to the States the shadow only of that independent action for which they had so zealously contended and on the preservation of which they relied as the last hope of liberty. Without denying that the result to which they looked with so much apprehension is in the way of being realized, it is obvious that they did not clearly see the mode of its accomplishment. The General Government has seized upon none of the reserved rights of the States. As far as any open warfare may have gone, the State authorities have amply maintained their rights. To a casual observer our system presents no appearance of discord between the different members which compose it. Even the addition of many new ones has produced no jarring. They move in their respective orbits in perfect harmony with the central head and with each other. But there is still an undercurrent at work by which, if not seasonably checked, the worst apprehensions of our antifederal patriots will be realized, and not only will the State authorities be overshadowed by the great increase of power in the executive department of the General Government, but the character of that Government, if not its designation, be essentially and radically changed. This state of things has been in part effected by causes inherent in the Constitution and in part by the never-failing tendency of political power to increase itself.

Harrison’s speech came during a frigid day with a snowstorm. He promptly spent the rest of the day outside greeting well wishers. He caught a cold that day and died of pneumonia a month later.

Waiting for the Stimulus

January 15, 2009

Displaced Okies

As George W. Bush takes the stage for one last time tonight — finally! — a cry threatens to overtake him and even the new president who is the object of so much hope and anticipation. The stimulus. In offices and conference rooms, in anxious dens converted to workspace and breakfast halls, you hear it. Just hang on until the stimulus package kicks in. It’s a refrain that has become part of the public lexicon — part of the sober speeches of the day — Things may be bad now, but the stimulus will get things going again.

All the hope and anticipation for the stimulus plan — being finalized in the House of Representatives today — reminds me of the plight of those displaced Okies seeking work in California after the bank seizure of their farms during the Depression. It’s what John Steinbeck wrote about in The Grapes of Wrath. Back then, the hope centered on jobs in the Golden State, which the farmers learned about via the distribution of handbills. ” ‘We seen them han’bills. I got one right here.’ He took out his purse and from it took a folded orange handbill. In black type it said, ‘Pea Pickers Wanted in California. Good wages. All Season. 800 Pickers Wanted.’ ”

That’s not, however, how it turned out. Here’s Steinbeck’s devastating summation of what happened when they arrived in California.

“When there was work for a man, ten men fought for it — fought with a low wage. If that fella’ll work for thirty cents, I’ll work for twenty-five.

If he’ll take twenty-five, I’ll do it for twenty.

No, me, I’m hungry. I’ll work for fifteen. I’ll work for food. The kids. You ought to see them…Me. I’ll work for a little piece of meat.

And this was good, for wages went down and prices stayed up.”

I don’t have any reason to believe that our economy won’t get cooking soon — helped along by the Federal Reserve’s low interest rates and President-Elect Obama’s stimulus package. But it is instructive to consider the psychological aspects to a downturn, none greater than depicted in Steinbeck’s classic novel.

Auto Bailout Fails; Where Do We Go From Here?

December 12, 2008

America has entered treacherous waters with the failure of the auto industry bailout deal in the Senate last night. Think about how far we’ve sunk since September. Back then, we were experiencing a credit crunch, the effects of which were felt by only a small number of Americans at the time. Since then the $700 billion Treasury rescue plan seems to not have made much of a difference — although it is likely the situation would be worse if that legislation wasn’t passed. Also, since the crisis started the plight of ordinary people has gotten worse. New claims for unemployment are at the highest point in 26 years. That 1982 recession was ferocious, particularly in the industrial Midwest, and most experts say we’re in for 6 months or more of this.

In other recessions, such as the Bush Recession in 1992, observers failed to recognize things getting better early enough. I don’t get the sense that’s happening now.

President-Elect Obama’s opportunity is that he will take office at a real low point, from which things can only get better. Much of economic behavior involves psychology. If Obama the Orator can make Americans feel better, maybe things we’ll improve. So we can hope.

Gitell on Barack Obama’s National Security Team

December 3, 2008

Watch me on NewsNight analyzing President-Elect Obama’s new national security team by clicking here.

The Obama Announcement

December 1, 2008

I watched in awe as President-Elect Barack Obama announced his national security team. There, as has been leaked, stood Senator Clinton aside the incoming president. It is remarkable in our political lifetime for a president to make such an ambitious pick — and for that pick to accept.

The Obama team faced a considerable challenge during today’s media availability. They had to manage the announcement — and the egos of the personalities involved –in such a way to highlight each member of the team without having it look unruly. It came across, more or less, as smooth. The journalists’ questions were all easily anticipated and mostly focused on challenging Obama on what statements he made about Clinton during the campaign. Other thoughts:


  • Permanent Representative to the United Nations is a good spot for the underwhelming Susan Rice. At the U.N. she can be an outspoken advocate for American values and diplomacy without having much to do with substance — although the elevation of this post to cabinet-level could alter the equation.
  • I could not miss Obama’s reference to the Middle East peace process. I wonder exactly how ambitious his plans are for this area.
  • A interesting spot of the event was Vice President-Elect Joseph Biden. He seemed to be chafing at the confines of his talking points. 
  • Expect some conflict between the presumptive national security adviser, James Jones, who has been critical of Israel, and Clinton. Writes Eli Lake: “When Obama makes that move [on the issues], the Jones-Clinton tensions may reprise the great Powell-Cheney fights of yore.”

Barack Obama Eats and Schmoozes at Manny’s

November 21, 2008

The Happy Place

I’ve been very impressed with Barack Obama’s moves since becoming the President-elect. But this afternoon Obama did something to make me swoon: He had lunch at Manny’s Delicatessen in Chicago. All I can say is that this lean arugla-lover has found some soul — or at least soul food.

Back when started, I included Manny’s on my list of approved delis: “Cantors in Los Angeles, Nate & Al’s in Beverly Hills (catch Larry King at breakfast), Manny’s in Chicago, Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Katz’s Deli on Houston Street, Harold’s in Edison, New Jersey (home to the pickle bar), Smallman Street Deli in Pittsburgh. I cannot neglect to mention Schwartz’s Smoked Meat in Montreal, worth a trip to Quebec.”

In retrospect, I don’t think I provided enough detail on Manny’s, about which I had not heard until I ate there with my sister-in-law and her husband, a native Chicagoan. Located near the historic Hull House, Manny’s is most remniscent of Katz’s on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. We walked in on a frigid January day to find a food oasis. It’s the kind of of pleasantly ungentrified place where the odor of corned beef, pickles and pastrami is embedded into the walls. I had a hot corned beef sandwich with a potato pancake and matzo ball soup. It was one of the first restaurants that disavowed me of the notion that good, authentic deli had to come from New York.

My brother-in-law Mitch, my guide to culinary Chicago, Super Dawg, Italian beefs, deep dish pizza, etc., filled me in. Manny’s, he said, was a place where I was just as likely to find a local alderman, judge or political columnist as I was a hungry Bears fan. Or the president-elect and his top adviser.

President-Elect Obama at Manny's

Welcome Back Joe!

November 19, 2008

Back in July I met with derision when I made a proposal in my then-New York Sun column.

One prominent Democrat, however, can save Mr. Lieberman — Barack Obama. Since emerging onto the national scene four years ago, Senator Obama has emphasized his ability to unite Americans across the political spectrum.

If Mr. Obama wants to demonstrate his willingness to change the way Washington does business and to overcome “the politics of division and distraction” — both of which he has vowed repeatedly — he should offer Mr. Lieberman a political pardon and ask Mr. Reid to allow Mr. Lieberman to keep his chairmanship, if Mr. Obama is elected president. While a new president lacks the power to interfere in an internal senate matter, Mr. Obama’s voice would carry weight with the senate leadership.

With the approach of the Republican parley in Minnesota in early September, the issue will ripen. Instead of speaking in favor of purging Mr. Lieberman, Mr. Obama could offer to reserve a decision on the matter until after the election. Then, if elected, he could urge Mr. Reid to keep Mr. Lieberman within the ranks.

Such magnanimity would not reflect the usual political rules of either Washington or Chicago, Mr. Obama’s hometown, where the typical approach to fallen foes is to cut their legs off and bury them so far under that they are silenced permanently. Mr. Lieberman is, after all, campaigning on behalf of Mr. McCain, often at the candidate’s side. And, according to published reports, Mr. Obama, confronted Mr. Lieberman on the floor of the senate after the Connecticut senator participated in a conference call criticizing Mr. Obama’s foreign policy positions. Among Mr. Obama’s concerns, according to Newsweek, was Mr. Lieberman’s failure to successfully rebut the false allegation that he is a Muslim.

As unlikely as an act of forgiveness might seem now, it would be in keeping with the spirit of Mr. Obama’s rhetoric. “There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq,” Mr. Obama said during his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. “We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”

Permitting Mr. Lieberman, the party’s 2000 vice presidential candidate, to remain within the Democratic caucus would display Mr. Obama’s commitment to those very words. Mr. Lieberman’s issues with his fellow Democrats, after all, began when his strong support of the Iraq War prompted a primary challenge from an anti-war candidate, Ned Lamont.

Few readers liked this column. Progressive Democrats, furious at Lieberman for his position on the Iraq War and support of McCain, frothed at the idea of welcoming Lieberman back. Conservatives, noting that Lieberman was backing McCain, dismissed the thought that Lieberman would need a post-McCain strategy.

Well, now, at Barack Obama’s urging, the Senate Democrats have done exactly what I suggested. John Kerry was particularly magnanimous on the issue. “”President-elect Obama asked for forgiveness for Sen. Lieberman, the caucus has made a decision to censure his comments and strip of his membership on the EPW Committee, and it’s time to move on,” Kerry’s spokesperson, Brigid O’Rourke, told PolitickerMa.

The comments of both Kerry and Lieberman suggest the leniency came, exactly as I suggested, from President-Elect Obama himself. Here’s what the Globe reports about it: “Lieberman partly credited Obama, who has preached unity and bipartisanship since the election, for the lighter penalty. Lieberman also publicly thanked a handful of senators for their support, including Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who said later that John F. Kerry of Massachusetts also spoke on Lieberman’s behalf.”

Yes We Can…Copy Barack Obama

November 15, 2008

The Gold Standard

Netanyahu Website

My friend Noam Cohen writes a great story in The New York Times today about Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign website (see above) in Israel. While there’s humor in the idea of Israel’s conservative candidate emulating Obama — not his ideological counterpart John McCain, the story reinforces the idea of how revolutionary Obama’s campaign was. It is, for the purposes of political campaigns around the world, the state of the art.

Click on the Russian-language version of the campaign Web site of Benjamin Netanyahu, the conservative Likud leader running for prime minister of Israel, and up pops a picture of the candidate with Barack Obama. On the Hebrew version, Obama is not pictured. But he is, in fact, everywhere.

The colors, the fonts, the icons for donating and volunteering, the use of embedded video, and the social networking Facebook-type options — including Twitter, which hardly exists in Israel — all reflect a conscious effort by the Netanyahu campaign to learn from the Obama success.

“Imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” noted Ron Dermer, one of Netanyahu’s top campaign advisers. “We’re all in the same business, so we took a close look at a guy who has been the most successful and tried to learn from him. And while we will not use the word ‘change’ in the same way in our campaign, we believe Netanyahu is the real candidate of change for Israel.”

Those who created the Obama Web site, including Thomas Gensemer, managing partner of Blue State Digital, say the Netanyahu site is closer than any others they have seen.

“Nothing has been so direct as the Netanyahu though we have seen others with shades of it,” he said, adding that when you are successful, “people are going to knock things off, both in terms of functionality and aesthetic.”

Web sites aside, for liberals in both countries, the idea of Netanyahu as the Obama candidate of Israel seems mystifying. Of the three main contenders for prime minister in February’s election, including Tzipi Livni of Kadima and Ehud Barak of Labor, Netanyahu is the most hawkish and the least interested in the focus on dialogue with adversaries that Obama made a centerpiece of his foreign policy platform. Netanyahu has said he would shut down the current negotiations with the Palestinian leadership.

But it is precisely the break with the current policy that Netanyahu, known by his nickname Bibi, believes will help him take the largest share of votes. The most recent polls show him slightly ahead of his rivals.

Sani Sanilevich, who is managing Netanyahu’s Internet campaign, said the Web is one of the biggest focuses of the campaign, and with good reason.

“The main advantage of the Internet is the ability to communicate with citizens and people directly,” he said. “You can actually hear them and get them involved in this campaign. The whole idea is, together we can succeed.”