Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

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.”

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.”

President-Elect Obama’s Press Conference: So Far So Good

November 7, 2008

I caught most of President-Elect Obama’s press conference and liked what I heard. I’m very enthused about his gathering the top economic experts together and addressing the public so soon.

My sense is that Team Obama knows it has a very hard road ahead. The secret for them will be appearing to manage a tough problem — not actually being able to solve a systemic global financial collapse with any alacrity.

That’s what was so good about today. Obama did what any thoughtful, engaged leader would do. It’s amazing, but I can’t recall George W. Bush doing anything like this. When policy analysts, for example, pushed for a conference to plan for the aftermath of the War in Iraq, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and company nixed it.

While Obama will be saddled with cleaning up Bush’s legacy, politically he has much to gain from his juxtaposition with 43. Everytime Obama appears to show energy and interest in a problem and communicates to the American people — one of his core skills — he will be judged to be doing a good job.

Now, for the substance. Today’s lineup suggests some real problems for the administration. Included were fiscal hawks, such as Lawrence Summers and Robert Rubin as well as economic progressives, such as Robert Reich. I see a policy battle shaping up between these two factions as was chronicled in Bob Woodward’s book on Bill Clinton’s first term, “The Agenda.”  That conflict ended with Robert Reich’s resignation from the cabinet. The potential for disparate ideas being raised probably guided the Obama’s approach to the media today. They invited t.v. cameras in to spray the meeting but asked reporters to wait for the press conference for “sound” — the exact thing I would have advised for a meeting like this.

That’s not, however, today’s story. It’s enough that Obama showed action and interest. After 8 years of President Bush, that’s good enough for me.

Samuel Adams, The Founders and Barack Obama

November 7, 2008

Ira Stoll riffs on Barack Obama’s reference to America’s Founders in the New York Daily News.

Barack Obama began his Election Night victory speech with a phrase that may have stopped short anyone educated with history textbooks written anytime in the past 30 years. “If there is anyone out there who still . . . wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time . . . tonight is your answer,” he said.

“The dream of the founders”? Which founders could Obama have been talking about? Thomas Jefferson, the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, was a slaveholder. George Washington, our first President, was a slaveholder, though his will dictated that his slaves would be freed upon his death. James Madison, the drafter of the Constitution, was a third slaveholding founder. He believed that freed slaves should be sent back to Africa.

The Constitution with which these founders created America counted slaves as three-fifths of a person and included a 20-year prohibition on Congress banning the slave trade. The only dream these founders would have had of a black President would have been a nightmare.

There’s no record of Samuel Adams dreaming of a black President, either. But of all our founding fathers, he is the one perhaps most likely to have done so. In researching my biography of Adams, I discovered that Adams refused to accept a slave he had been offered as a gift – and never himself held a slave.

Stoll is emerging as the nation’s expert on the least well known of America’s revolutionary leaders. He has written a new book, Samuel Adams: A Life, which has already received a favorable review in the Wall Street Journal.

Personal Memories of Campaign 2008

November 6, 2008
I first met Barack Obama at a sparsely attended press conference for Deval Patrick in October 2006. I saw him electrify an audience at the JFK Library and witnessed his first big appearance in New Hampshire in early December. I was there in Concord when Obama stood by his vow to meet the president of Iran during his first year in office. “We don’t need Bush-Cheney Lite,” he said as the crowd erupted in cheers. Even when this became an issue in the debates with McCain, nobody told McCain Obama ever said that.
I heard him implore Massachusetts to vote for him with Caroline Kennedy and Ted Kennedy at his side the night before the primary. He lost but he did not lose his cool.
I saw his last appearance with foreign policy aide Samantha Power. Obama seemed to love her energy but his staffers kept reeling her in.
I was one of the few writers to spend an extended period of time with Joe Biden, who gave me time after a book talk at Borders in downtown Boston. In an odd juxtaposition from four years earlier, I waited for Biden with the BPPA’s leadership team.
I attended scores of Hillary Clinton speeches and watched her campaign of inevitability devolve into desperation. I saw her fight back as the NH primary approached. I was in the room when two goons got up during one of her speeches shouting “Iron My Shirt! Iron My Shirt!”
I covered the Pennsylvania primary before Obama had figured out how to capture the votes of blue collar whites (or before the economy entirely went south.) I saw a Bill Clinton, reduced to giving 25 minute speeches in out-of-the-way venues, rev up the crowd in Millvale, PA. I interviewed Senator Casey of Pennsylvania who assured me Obama would win over enough Catholic voters to become president.
On the Republican side, I began by following Mitt Romney around New Hampshire. I saw Rudy Giuliani take brief interest and lose it in the Granite State. While he started to resonate in July, his big tour across Southern New Hampshire was a bust. The lasting image is of his gaggle of stilettoed press aides shoeing away the media, including David Broder who subsequently slammed Giuliani in the Washington Post.
McCain began his presidential campaign in Portsmouth at a highly orchestrated event right on the river with just one problem. The t.v. cameras could not shoot over the big speakers McCain’s people had set up. I called around NH when McCain hit his low point. McCain would win NH on his own, his supporters said. And they were right. I was with McCain the night he won NH and killed the campaign of Mitt Romney. The campaign blared Chuck Berry’s “Go Johnny Go!” How is this guy going to compete with Obama and his U2 “City of Blinding Light?” I thought.
I was there in Denver when Obama made everything in his campaign bigger and pulled it off.

Barack Obama’s Place in History

November 5, 2008

The New York Post has run my piece on Obama’s place in history. Read it here:

Barack Obama’s victory last night will be a permanent feature of American history books.

The 2008 election represents the latest chapter in a story that began with Africans coming to the United States in chains.

Slavery persisted in this country until 1865. After a half-hearted attempt at Reconstruction, the nation left African-Americans in the South still shackled by the restrictive Jim Crow laws. Blacks couldn’t vote, drink from the same public water fountains or ride in the same train cars as whites.

A 1947 essay, “Can the Negro Expect Freedom By 1965?” by W.E.B. Du Bois helps underscore the magnitude of Obama’s victory.

Describing New York City, an area far more liberal than the South, in 1900: Du Bois wrote, “[Blacks] were especially limited in where they could live. They could only attend theaters in the balcony, and they were often segregated. Few restaurants received them .ñ.ñ. No New York daily had Negro reporters and usually reported no Negro news except crime.”

In that essay, Du Bois managed to imagine true freedom for African-Americans in the 1960s – but he did not go so far as to contemplate a black president.

More relevant to the modern perspective, segregation persisted in the South until the 1960s. One of Obama’s most vocal supporters, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, began his career in public life as a civil-rights activist – whose skull was cracked by state troopers during a march in Alabama.

Obama’s personal story – the son of an immigrant Kenyan father and a white Kansan mother, raised with help from his white grandmother – differs from those of most African-Americans. But that does not dampen yesterday’s significance.

Blacks came out to vote in extraordinary numbers in Brooklyn, Chicago and other urban neighborhoods across much of the country – some for the first time. Indeed, the 2008 election saw historical voter participation – more than 65 percent of Americans came out to vote. That is the highest turnout percentage in the last century.

And Obama carries the standard for a new generation of black leadership. While he worked for much of his career as a community organizer, his wide-reaching political style represents a repudiation of the political efforts of prior leaders, such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who are remnants of the civil-rights era.

For decades Democrats have longed for a politician who could bring African-Americans together with white working class voters. No national leader has so ably constructed a broad electoral coalition. (Bill Clinton, for example, never won a majority of American voters.) While the economic downturn helped Obama’s candidacy, his commitment to a message of unity sealed the deal for him.

His disciplined campaign remained true to the message he articulated at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston: “There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America .ñ.ñ. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”

During the Cold War, hawkish Democrats, such as John Kennedy, supported civil rights as a tool in the battle against the Soviet Union. They knew that America’s foreign foes would exploit the propaganda value of a segregated America.

Obama’s election turns that thinking around. His unique ethnic background is no cure-all, but it does send a powerful message to the world that America is still the home of opportunity and hope. The United States has become the first advanced Western nation to be led by a person of color.

Unlike France (where immigrants remain sequestered unhappily in suburban housing projects) or Germany (where legal immigrants face numerous hurdles in becoming citizens), in America, a son of a Kenyan immigrant can become the leader of the most powerful nation in the world.

Barack Obama’s election shows that we are powerful not just because of our military might, but because of the strength of our ideals.

Obama’s Virtual Field Machine

November 4, 2008

I can’t let election day pass without commenting on a major innovation in campaign Get Out The Vote techniques — Barack Obama’s virtual army. Until now, only powerful politicians with machines, labor unions and churches have been able to provide large numbers of bodies to presidential campaigns for voter identification and door knocking.

Obama’s campaign has rocketed ahead of that time-honored practice. It has made good use of the thousands if not millions of cell phone numbers it captured prior to the vice presidential selection process. The campaign has been sending out multiple messages telling activists how to make calls on behalf of the candidate. Even more dramatic, the campaign has taken phone calling outside of the labor hall. Supporters can go to Obama’s website and get everything they need to call undecided voters — from the location of their choice.

Last night there were so many callers into Florida, they received an “all circuits busy” message. (Perhaps the legacy of the Great Shlep.)  The success of this new method of handling calls may reflect unique excitement among young people for Obama. But my sense is this technological innovation will become a permanent feature of campaigns.