Saturday, November 10, 2007

Barack Obama at the Jefferson Jackson dinner

The campaign’s already got the video up on YouTube:

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(You can see it here if you’re having trouble seeing the video in a feed reader.)

Four years ago, Robin and I drove to Des Moines to see Dean and the other candidates at this same event. It was a remarkable night, not so much because the speeches were new, but because we were participating in the process, and seeing the mechanics of the Iowa caucus machine up close. It was fascinating, and I can still recall much of the evening as if it was last night.

I thought Barack’s speech tonight was good. He was stronger than he’s been in prior events, and he drew sharper distinctions between himself and Hillary than he has before. I thought Edwards’ speech was excellent, Biden’s “joke” trying to needle Obama’s supporters was weak (the guy just has no sense of time and place, you know?), and Hillary saying she wants to attack America’s problems instead of her opponents is a nice gesture, but I think a mistake. Voters want to know why they should support her instead of one of her opponents – and with Barack and Edwards in particular pointing out her vote for the war, her support of the Lieberman/Kyl amendment (authorizing Bush to rattle the saber towards Iran) and her inability to unilaterally denounce torture of POWs, it’ll be hard for her to ignore those attacks and remain the front-runner.

In 2003, I was surprised at how coordinated Kerry’s supporters were. And that was an early indication of how well-organized his Iowa operation was – a key factor in his eventual victory there. As The Politico notes, the JJ Dinner is a chance for the candidates to see whether their operations are up to snuff. From my vantage point (courtesy of C-SPAN), Obama’s supporters seemed to dramatically out-number the others (but see the comments on my 2003 post to see that my ability to judge supporters’ numbers is at least of questionable accuracy), and more importantly, they were very well organized.

Think Hillary’s campaign took notice? You bet. Check this out (again, from Politico):

At least two of Hillary Clinton’s upper-echelon advisers, Mandy Grunwald and Mark Penn, were decidedly unimpressed .

“Our people look like caucus-goers,” Grunwald said, “and his people look like they are 18. Penn said they look like Facebook.”

Penn added, “Only a few of their people look like they could vote in any state.”

Nice. Insult the supporters – a sure way to win favor as you go into the Caucus. Watch for this over the next few days – if the breadth and depth of Obama’s support in Iowa gets any traction in the press, the Clinton camp will try to argue that they have “real” supporters and Barack doesn’t. This is a tough line to walk: arguing that the old folks support you and those crazy kids aren’t worth paying attention to, well, I can see a few ways that might bite you back in the weeks ahead.

Don’t get me wrong – Obama’s got a decidedly younger base of support, and younger voters aren’t exactly known for putting in the hours in January necessary to make it through the Caucus. But I think he did well tonight, and I expect we’ll see the race continue to tighten in the next few weeks. (Oh, and remember my prediction earlier in the week about how he’ll win? Look at that – the race is already tightening in New Hampshire.)

Update: Garance Franke-Ruta, who I fell in love with as a result of her early coverage of Dean in 2003 (“Dean makes you feel like you’ve been waiting your whole life for someone to say what he says”) was in the balcony and has a great write-up of her impressions, writing that “Barack Obama, on the other hand, finally gave the speech his supporters have been waiting for him to give all year. If anyone comes out of this dinner with The Big Mo, it will be him.” Michael Crowley from The New Republic says the night didn’t change much, but that Barack was the clear winner, and that Hillary’s presentation was stilted and ineffective.

Friday, November 9, 2007

MoGo Bluetooth Mouse - Best. Swag. Ever.

I spoke at Blogworld Expo yesterday and the speaker gift was a Bluetooth mouse from MoGo. It’s a PCMCIA (PC Card? I can’t remember what we’re supposed to call those blessed peripherals any more) card that charges its battery while inserted. When removed, it’s a wireless mouse that connects to your computer via Bluetooth. The form factor is terrific – surprisingly solid for such a thin device – and it slides easily on a flat surface.

I ran into one of the guys from MoGo who asked how I liked the mouse, and I told him I was really impressed. Funnily enough, I didn’t realize I actually had a PCMCIA slot – I thought I just had Express Card slots. At which point he pulled out the newer MoGo mouse, which is an ExpressCard model – and is both a mouse and a PowerPoint remote (including a laser pointer). My presentation was an hour later, and I used it to drive my presentation. It was great – really a nice addition to the laptop. Thanks to MoGo for the gift!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

How Barack will win

I’ve been having this conversation a lot lately, so it seemed worthwhile to try and organize my thoughts a bit and see if I can’t make the case here. My support of Barack should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, but lately a ton of you have been asking (mostly with an air of resignation) whether the Democratic race isn’t already over. After all, Hillary seems to be holding steady in the polls in the high 40s (a few weeks ago she’d even crested 50%) and Barack doesn’t seem to be making a dent.

I’d love to have Barack in the lead in those polls, but I don’t see them as really indicative of much. National polls — especially at this stage in the game — are popularity contests that gauge little more than name recognition and comfort. Hard as it is to believe for us political junkies, the rest of the country is only vaguely aware that 47 different men (and one woman) are running for President right now (at least I think that’s the number, I lost count). So when a national poll asks who you’re likely to vote for for President, the responses are really more reflective of the voters’ overall comfort with Clinton as a potential candidate, not a referendum on whether Barack should win.

More important than the national polls are the polls in the early states: Iowa and New Hampshire to be precise. Right now Iowa is awfully tight – the latest polls I’ve seen have Hillary and Barack within a few points of each other, within the margin of error. (You can see this poll and all others aggregated at Slate’s magnificent Election Scorecard if you’re interested.) And while New Hampshire is less tight – Hillary leads Barack 40-20 there – that’s less of a concern. Remember 2003? At this point in Iowa, Dean led Kerry by double digits, and was up in New Hampshire by 40 percentage points. A 3rd place finish in Iowa (thanks to a rejuvenated Kerry campaign, a masterful push by Edwards, blistering attacks on Dean by Gephardt and a complete implosion by Dean) and the New Hampshire lead evaporated, and Dean was toast.

Which brings me back to how Barack will win.

Back in January I asked whether this country really wanted to keep the White House in the family:

Look for everyone on both sides of the aisle to ask rhetorically whether we want to keep the Presidency in the family. As in, “since 1988, we’ve had two families control the Presidency: Bush and Clinton. Do you want to give those families another 8 years in charge?” (It’s pretty amazing, when you think about it: if Hillary were to win, that would mean that two families controlled the White House for 28 consecutive years.) I think that’s a surprisingly powerful argument against Hillary, regardless of how you feel about her, her politics, or her suitability for the office.

Surprisingly, I haven’t seen this issue get raised in any concentrated effort. That’s not to say it’s not being discussed – it most certainly is. But given the earlier dynamics – that the race is still early for most observers – I think we’ve not yet seen this point reach its crescendo. And once it does, Hillary will have a very hard time fighting it – because, as I observed in January, this is not a critique of her credentials, or of her suitability for the office. It’s much more about how we see ourselves. And if the drum gets beat loudly enough, often enough, I think you’ll find larger and larger groups of people looking for an alternative. (Come to think of it, 36 years is the even more dramatic number: Bush’s Dad was in the White House starting in 1980… and a Bush or Clinton has been there ever since.) If she’s elected, nearly half of the country will have lived in a time when only a Bush or Clinton occupied the White House. That will, I believe, strike many people as instinctively wrong.

Lest it seem that I’m ignoring Sen. Edwards, I’m not. But I think he’ll play a spoiler role in Iowa – he is ratcheting up the attacks on Senator Clinton, at precisely the time that she’s showing ever so slight signs of pressure. (Her waffle on drivers licenses for illegals runs the risk of becoming this season’s “I invented the Internet” meme – completely unfair, but it’s a thread that reinforces preexisting concerns about the Clintonian triangulation that drove Clinton’s critics up the wall.) Let’s not forget that Edwards was a legendary trial lawyer, known for his ability to synthesize complex cases into a compelling, comprehensible narrative. If he can chip away at Clinton’s armor – and I think he may well sow seeds of doubt as people look ever closer at whether or not she should be president – I think the most likely result is that he opens the door for Barack to surge ahead. (See Taegan’s thoughts on this as well – I agree with his take.)

I won’t go so far as to suggest Barack is a “darling” of the Republican crowd – but for an unabashedly liberal Democrat he sure is garnering lots of praise in unexpected places. I recently pointed out praise from Reagan and Bush speechwriter (and WSJ columnist) Peggy Nooonan but it was this month’s article in The Atlantic by Andrew Sullivan (yes, that Andrew Sullivan) that demonstrates the role Obama can (and I think will) play in 2008 and beyond.

Obama’s candidacy in this sense is a potentially transformational one. Unlike any of the other candidates, he could take America—finally—past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us. So much has happened in America in the past seven years, let alone the past 40, that we can be forgiven for focusing on the present and the immediate future. But it is only when you take several large steps back into the long past that the full logic of an Obama presidency stares directly—and uncomfortably—at you.

… If you are an American who yearns to finally get beyond the symbolic battles of the Boomer generation and face today’s actual problems, Obama may be your man.

In the aftermath of the Bush Administration, Democrats are desperate to win. Right now, casual observers assume that a Clinton is our best chance at doing that. I disagree. I see her as a polarizing figure – one who would energize the Republican base, and not only make the Presidential contest tighter, I think she’d hurt candidates down the ballot as a result. In a tight race, she could easily mean the difference between picking up additional seats in Congress and losing ground we made up in 2006.

Contrast that reality (I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that there are countless Republicans who have a very personal dislike of Hillary Clinton) with the reality that more Republicans favor Barack than any other Democrat. For those voters in the primaries who are momentum voters – they go with who they think can win – I think Barack becomes a consensus choice in much the same way that Kerry’s win in Iowa helped him run the table and win the nomination.

A lot has to go right for Barack to be our party’s nominee. But he’s raised more than enough money to be competitive. I think everyone who will have an opinion about Hillary already has an opinion – and in many cases, those opinions will make her election in November of next year more difficult. As more Democrats pay attention to the presidential race, they’ll take a hard look at her and look at their alternatives.

If Barack is our nominee – and I’m confident he will be – then, to borrow the words of a Republican I admire, it’s his race to lose. That makes for a very exciting year.

We will elect our next president one year from today. Let’s get to it.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Guitar Hero for the Wii rocks

No, I won’t win any awards for most creative post title. Sue me. I picked up Guitar Hero for the Wii today while we were out running errands, and I had more fun playing this game than any game on the Wii to date. Best of all, it supports online play, so those of you who own the game can take me on in a shred-off. I’d write more, but I can barely feel my fingers.