Monday, July 14, 2008

Blog Continues -- Presidential Commentary Ceases

July 14, 2008, 7:25 a.m.

Now that the 2008 general election for president appears to be taking on the qualities of a conventional, "old politics" contest, modeled on the ones in 2000 and 2004, barring some dramatic turn of events I think I've said everything I have to say about it. I'm really sorry it's turned out the way it has, but that's the reality, and so now there's little left but to watch it run its course.

The blog will continue, but after today my daily comments about the candidates and their strategies and fund raising will not. (See links to prior political blog entries, below.)

Senator Barack Obama may think the Second Amendment forbids the Washington, D.C.'s, efforts to reduce handgun deaths, but the only thing he's shot so far is his own foot. Suzanne Goldenberg and Elana Schor, "Obama supports supreme court reversal of gun ban; Candidate's stance at odds with former position," The Guardian, June 27, 2008 ("In the latest in a series of policy reversals for the Democratic presidential candidate, Obama came out in support of yesterday's supreme court decision overturning a gun ban in the city of Washington that had been a model for fighting urban crime.").

I'm not going to say "I told you so" in the offensive, colloquial sense, because (1) I may be (and may have been) wrong, and (2) many others were making the same observations and providing the same advice I was during the last three weeks.

But I will note my earlier predictions that Senator Obama's change of heart, mind, and brand would prove to be a very serious strategic error (in addition to whatever else one might say about its ethics and what was owed to those who gained the nomination for him).

As I wrote last March, in comparing the range of experience of Senators Clinton, McCain and Obama -- that is to say, the breadth of experience, relevant to the presidency, that might warrant a candidate campaigning on the assertion that they were more qualified than their opponents:

None has served as mayor or governor; none has headed a cabinet department; none has helped administer the Pentagon or CIA; none has worked for international organizations, been ambassador to the United Nations or a foreign country; none has been a union officer or corporate CEO. None has headed delegations negotiating with foreign governments over trade agreements, release of hostages or treaties.

Each has the “legislative experience” of making speeches and signing bills, though none as House speaker or Senate leader. McCain has 25 years in the U.S. House and Senate, Obama 12 years in the Illinois and U.S. senates and Clinton the least with eight years in the U.S. Senate.
Nicholas Johnson, Politics: Assessing Candidates' 'Experience,'" The Gazette, March 30, 2008, p. A9, in "Gazette Op Ed: Candidates' 'Experience,'" March 30, 2008. (For contrast, consider the breadth of experience of, say, President George H.W. Bush, or Governor Bill Richardson.)

In short, if Senator Obama is to win in November, his advantage, his potential winning "brand," must be found elsewhere than in his "experience," his "record" -- as commendable as they may be. Senator McCain's experience that is relevant to the presidency, as I wrote earlier, is not that much better -- it's virtually all legislative. But it spans more years, and he does have that military hero's aura as a POW, did have a bit of administrative experience as a squadron commander, and he's older -- so many voters would probably give him the nod on the experience factor (whether warranted or not).

Sadly, Obama did once have the advantage in the form of a unique and winning "brand" -- not just "change," but change "we can believe in," hope, a willingness to "turn the page," to take our government back from the lobbyists and special interests, a real concern for the poor, working class and middle class.

His Web site still leads with the quote, "I'm asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington. . . . I'm asking you to believe in yours."

It was a winning brand. It enabled him to amass millions of dollars in contributions from 1.6 million supporters, and the volunteer hours, enthusiasm, and primary votes of millions more. What is more, it enabled him to win the nomination over eight very attractive and worthy competitors -- most especially, in Senator Hillary Clinton (Obama's last standing competitor), one of the most powerful, well-connected, and well-funded political organizations in the United States in recent years.

Having become the "presumptive nominee" the first week of June, prior to the Democratic National Convention actually nominating him in August, he switched into "general election" mode. He and his advisers apparently drank the inside-the-beltway Kool Aid that presumes Democrats must reverse field on some positions (e.g., public financing of campaigns, FISA and telephone company immunity (i.e., "terrorism" and fear), and The War), bring some others out of the closet (e.g., gun ownership, death penalty, federal funding of religions engaged in community programs), and be seen to be publicly turning his back on his "liberal/progressive" enthusiastic supporters and some portions of the African-American community.

It's not where he is now; it's where he is compared with where he should be that is troubling.

This year should be the Democrats' year -- from the courthouse to the White House.

Democrats have an almost unprecedented 10-point lead among voters who claim affiliation with the Democratic Party compared with those who are card-carrying Republicans. Something like 70% of the American people are other than registered Republicans.

President Bush now has the highest disapproval ratings of any president in American history.

Something like 80% of the people think the country is going in the wrong direction. Gasoline prices are over $4.00 a gallon and seemingly headed north -- inflating the prices of every product dependent on transportation. The War in Afghanistan is going even worse than the War in Iraq. Our balance of trade deficit approaches one trillion dollars a year -- in part because the dollar is now worth one-half to two-thirds of what it once was. And this week we learn that we've just had the second largest bank collapse in history, along with "financial troubles" with the two organizations that, between them, hold $5 trillion in (one-half of all) U.S. mortgages and have just seen a 50% drop in their stock prices.

All of which, politically, helps the Democrats even more (as a McCain spokesperson noted another terrorist attack would help McCain) as voters think Democrats can do a better job with the economy than Republicans. Since one of the consequences of permitting financial institutions to reach such size is that we can't permit them to go belly up, the likelihood is that this "little problem" will ultimately be "solved" by adding more trillions to the $40 trillion in unfunded future obligations our government has already created for our great-grandchildren.

Not only has Senator Obama had the fact that he is a Democrat going for him, his branding in the primary resulted in his stunning 48-to-36 percent lead over McCain among independents (whose past reputation as a maverick formerly made McCain popular with independents).

Switching brands.

When Obama's formerly enthusiastic young supporters became bitter as he "turned the page" back to the old politics he'd promised he'd change, he dismissed them with a casual "you just haven't been listening."

It turned out that they had been listening, and so had the rest of the American people -- 53% of whom now believe that he's just another old-style politician who not only did change positions, but did so merely to "gain political advantage."

The result is that, at this point in the campaign, he has deliberately demolished his old, quite dramatically successful brand, and put nothing in its place, by adopting the losing strategies of Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004.

The high cost of switching brands.

As a result (or at a minimum, at least in part as a result) of what I have earlier characterized as this strategic error, Obama's one-time 15% lead over McCain has now shrunk to 3%.

In June Obama had the support of independents, by a staggering 48-to-36 percent; today McCain has their votes, by a nearly reversed 41-to-34 percent.

Contributions to Senator Obama's campaign have dropped month by month February through May: from $55 million in February, to $41, $31, and $22 million in May. Now he's acknowledging he wants nearly a half-billion-dollars by election day, and is turning to $30,000-a-plate dinners and those who can "bundle" $250,000 each from their wealthy friends. This from a candidate who based his primary campaign, in part, on the boast of a dramatic use of the Internet to fund politics, getting away from the control by lobbyists, PACs, and special interests -- and the proportion of his funds coming from those giving $200 or less. This from the candidate who promised to control extravagant campaign spending by funding his general election campaign with the $85 million in public financing -- and then "changed his mind." -- thereby further contributing to the public perception that his "new-style politics" was coming to look more and more like the "old-style politics." See, Nicholas Johnson, "The Money Game -- And Rove's Advice for Obama," July 11, 2008.

Can Senator Obama recover from these self-inflicted wounds? Probably not completely, even under the best of circumstances. Even the most idealistic voters have by now learned the line, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." Whatever one may think of Karl Rove, it's difficult to argue with his political savvy or his observation that, in politics, "A candidate's credibility, once lost, is very hard to restore, regardless of how fine an organization he has built." (Quoted in Nicholas Johnson, "The Money Game -- And Rove's Advice for Obama," July 11, 2008.)

Here's the Newsweek report, followed by "Obama's Other Problems" and some additional data regarding the American electorate.

A month after emerging victorious from the bruising Democratic nominating contest, some of Barack Obama's glow may be fading. In the latest NEWSWEEK Poll, the Illinois senator leads Republican nominee John McCain by just 3 percentage points, 44 percent to 41 percent. The statistical dead heat is a marked change from last month's NEWSWEEK Poll, where Obama led McCain by 15 points, 51 percent to 36 percent.

Obama's rapid drop comes at a strategically challenging moment for the Democratic candidate. Having vanquished Hillary Clinton in early June, Obama quickly went about repositioning himself for a general-election audience--an unpleasant task for any nominee emerging from the pander-heavy primary contests and particularly for a candidate who'd slogged through a vigorous primary challenge in most every contest from January until June. Obama's reversal on FISA legislation, his support of faith-based initiatives and his decision to opt out of the campaign public-financing system left him open to charges he was a flip-flopper. In the new poll, 53 percent of voters (and 50 percent of former Hillary Clinton supporters) believe that Obama has changed his position on key issues in order to gain political advantage.

More seriously, some Obama supporters worry that the spectacle of their candidate eagerly embracing his old rival, Hillary Clinton, and traveling the country courting big donors at lavish fund-raisers, may have done lasting damage to his image as an arbiter of a new kind of politics. This is a major concern since Obama's outsider credentials, have, in the past, played a large part in his appeal to moderate, swing voters. In the new poll, McCain leads Obama among independents 41 percent to 34 percent, with 25 percent favoring neither candidate. In June's NEWSWEEK Poll, Obama bested McCain among independent voters, 48 percent to 36 percent.
Jonathan Darman, "Newsweek Poll: Obama, McCain in Statistical Dead Heat; Campaign 2008: Glow Fading?; The latest Newsweek Poll shows Barack Obama leading John McCain by only 3 points. What a difference a few weeks can make," Newsweek, July 11, 2008

Obama's Other Problems

Nor does Obama have an edge over McCain in favorable-unfavorable ratings. The author notes, "McCain's biography still appears to be his greatest asset, with 55 percent of voters saying they have a favorable opinion of the Arizona senator, compared to 32 percent who have an unfavorable opinion. (Obama's favorable/unfavorable gap is virtually identical at 56 to 32.)"

Senator McCain now has a 12-point lead with whites. Among Senator Clinton's supporters 30% are unwilling to say they'll support Obama. He never has, so far, done all that well with working class/high school-educated voters, or older women. And whatever else may be said of Jesse Jackson's inappropriate "off-mike" remarks last week, they do represent some disaffection among others in the African-American community as well.

The "FISA blog" on Obama's Web site has 23,000+ members -- clearly the largest -- and most of the comments range from disappointment, through a sense of betrayal, to real anger. And those enthusiastic youthful, first-time-voters who got him the nomination were something considerably more than just general election voters; they were the folks who would have been manning the phone banks, walking door-to-door, and otherwise spreading their enthusiasm. Casting them aside ("throwing them under the bus" as the current expression has it) was not a very smart move -- at least not until he can find an alternative source of equivalent energy.

Clearly, we still suffer under some vestiges of racism in America -- as virtually any African-American can confirm for you based on their own experiences. Polls can go only so far in predicting what voters will do with a secret ballot inside the voting booth on election day. But Geraldine Ferraro's views aside (she was quoted as saying Obama would not have been a serious candidate had he been white), there will be some who will vote against him because of his race(s).

Moreover, there are those who emphasize his middle name ("Hussein"), believe he is a Muslim, was sworn in on the Koran, educated in a madrasah,
and uses a terrorist knuckle-greeting with his wife -- none of which is true, of course (except for his name).

The New Yorker hasn't helped on this one with its latest cover.



Among the sophisticated elites who write and read The New Yorker this may be seen as hilarious humor because of the contrast between the truth and the extremes to which political campaigns -- and ignorance -- can carry some Americans.

But insofar as pictures can re-enforce perceptions, even when known to be false, showing Michelle as a terrorist, Barack as a Muslim, Osama's picture on the wall of the Oval Office, and an American flag burning in the office fire place on the cover of one of America's most prestigeous publications has to rank as one of the magazine's more outrageous errors in judgment (at best).

Additional Supporting Sources and Voter Data

Rasmussen Reports' "Summary of Party Affiliation" indicates that the Democrats' margin of voters' affiliation over that of the Republicans from 2004 through the first half of 2006 has usually been in the range of 2-3%. But for June 2008 the figures were 31.5% affiliated Republican, 41.0% Democrat, and 27.5% independent -- a 9.5% margin for the Democrats. "Summary of Party Affiliation," Rasmussen Reports, July 1, 2008. And see, "Partisan Trends: Democrats Retain Huge Party ID Advantage," Rasumussen Reports, July 2, 2008.

Kelly Holder, "Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2004," U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Reports,", March 2006, goes into considerable detail about voter preferences among a number of demographic groups in terms of number of Americans over 18, number who are citizens, number who bother to register, and of those the number who bother to vote, along with the reasons given for not voting.

The source for President Bush's unpopularity is the following:

WASHINGTON DC (CNN) -- A new poll suggests that President Bush is the most unpopular president in modern American history.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Thursday indicates that 71 percent of the American public disapprove of how Bush is handling his job as president.

"No president has ever had a higher disapproval rating in any CNN or Gallup Poll; in fact, this is the first time that any president's disapproval rating has cracked the 70 percent mark," said Keating Holland, CNN's polling director.

"Bush's approval rating, which stands at 28 percent in our new poll, remains better than the all-time lows set by Harry Truman and Richard Nixon [22 percent and 24 percent, respectively], but even those two presidents never got a disapproval rating in the 70s," Holland said. "The previous all-time record in CNN or Gallup polling was set by Truman, 67 percent disapproval in January 1952."
Paul Steinhauser, "Poll: More Disapprove of Bush Than Any Other President," CNN Election Center 2008, May 1, 2008

_______________


Here are links to recent, related blog entries:

Nicholas Johnson, "Change We Can No Longer Believe In," June 22, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "Holding Obama's Feet to the Fireside Chat," June 24, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "The Bundling Business," June 26, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "Will the Real Obama Stand Up -- For Us?" June 27, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "Pragmatic Idealism," June 28, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "Obama's Geometry: Triangulation," June 30, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "Obama's Move to Right Shows Self-Defeating Weakness," July 1, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "Obama's Telephone Switch," July 3, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "'Producing' a President," July 5, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "Request for Response: Your Reaction to 'Move to Center,'" July 7, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "Obama Doesn't Get It," July 9, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "Where Have You Gone Barack Obama?" July 10, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "The Money Game -- And Rove's Advice for Obama," July 11, 2008.
# # #

1 comment:

John Barleykorn said...

Nick,

Now that we are past the presidential stuff. What's your view on the local control issues for radio? It was brought up in the context of the fairness doctrine recently, and it seems the right is viewing this as some attempt to silence Rush Limbaugh.